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Barcode : 9999999025891 1 
Title - Rommel (1955) 
Author - Young Desmond 
Language - English 
Pages - 323 
Publication Year - 1955 
Barcode EAN.UCC-13 




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ROMMEL 



Famous books and autR&[s in th* 

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47. AUTOBIOGRAPHY 
46. AUNT CLARA 

43. THE URGENT HANGMAN 

44. TURN1NO WHEELS 
43. ONE GREEN BOTTLE 
42. YOUNG MRS. SAVAGE 
40. SHABBY TIGER 

39. MALAYAN ROSE 

38. THE APPROACH TO PAINTING 
37. ANNA 

34. DARKNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR 
33. THROUGH THE VALLEY 
30. WINGED DAGGER 

39. THE ROLLING YEARS 
26. THE SHIPBUILDERS 

23. BRITANNIA MEWS 

24. THB DOCTOR DARES 

21. THIS SIDE OF INNOCENCE 

17. SOUTH RIDING 

16. THE BLUB ICE 

14* THE WHITE TOWER 

13. ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO 

11. NORTHWEST PASSAGE 

6. ENGLISH SAOA 

5. THE SEA CHASE 

3. LONDON BELONGS TO MB 

2. THE WOODEN HORSE 

1. THB CROWTHERS OF BANKDAM 



^ 

Neville Cardus " 
Noel S treat feild 
Peter Cheyney 
Stuart Cloete 
Elizabeth Coxhead 
D. E. Stevenson 
Howard Spring 
Mark Derby 
Thomas Bodkin 
Norman Collins 
Nigel Balchin 
Robert Henriques 
Roy Far ran 
Agnes Sligh Turnbi 
George Blake 
Margery 

Eliza ^ 
Taylor ''(Shell 
Winifred Holtby 
Hammond Innes 
James Ramsey UUman 
Rachal Field 
Kenneth Roberts 
Arthur Bryant 
Andrew Geer 
Norman Collins 
Eric Williams 
Thomas Armstrong 




A complete list of titles appears at the end of the book 



Rommel 

i 



DESMOND YOUNG 

With a Foreword by 

FIELD-MARSHAL 
SIR CLAUDE AUCIIINLECK 



COLLINS 



fontana books 



First published r&o 
First issued in Fontana Books J 953 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 
COLLINS CLEAR -TYPE PRESS : LONDON AND GLASGOW 

■ 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



My grateful thanks are due to Field-Marshal Sir Claude 
Auchinleck for writing the foreword to the book and for his 
unvarying kindness to me during the years I was privileged 
to serve him ; to Field-Marshal Earl Wavell, General Sir 
Richard O'Connor and Lt.-Gen. Sir Arthur Smith for 
giving me their appreciations of Rommel as a commander; 
to Brigadier E. J. Shearer, C.B., Brigadier E. T. Williams, 
C.B., D.S.O., Brigadier G. D. Quiliiam, C.B.E., and Major 
Digby Racburn, D.S.O. for information regarding Rommel's 
first appearance in the Western Desert; to Colonel G. H. 
Clifton, D.S.O., M.C. for the story of his interviews with 
Rommel as a prisoner-of-war, and to Lt.-Col. R. M. P. 
Carver, C.B., D.S.O., M.C. for allowing me to quote from 
his detailed account of the November-December 1941 batde 
(published in the Royal Armoured Corps Journal), and to use 
his maps. To Chester Wilmot I am deeply indebted for 
invaluable help about " sources," to Major-General J. F. C. 
Fuller, Captain B. H. Liddell Hart and Alan Moorehead 
for advice and permission to quote from their writings, to 
Lt.-Col. P. Findlay for translating Infanterie Greift An, to 
Dr. Paul Weber of Berne for procuring material in Switzer- 
land, to my friends Mr. and Mrs. Gough of Neuchatel for 
driving me about Germany and to Lt.-Col. H. O. Larter 
of the U.S. Army Historical Section at Frankfurt for helping 
me when I was there. I am also grateful to William 
Heinemann Ltd. for permission to quote from General 
Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, and to the Trustees of Count 
Ciano's Estate for quotations from Ciano's Diaries. 
On " the other side of the hill," I received the greatest 

5 



b 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



possible help from Frau Rommel and her son Manfred, 
from Vice-Admiral Ruge, from Generals Bayerlein, von 
Esebeck, von Ravenstein and Speidel, from Captains. 
Aldinger and Hartmann, from Dr. Karl Strolin of Stuttg?-*»|' 
who told me the story of Rommel's association with the jjj^ 
against Hitler, from Baron von Esebeck, war correspondent, 
military historian and friend of Rommel, who served with 
him in North Africa and in Normandy, from Wilhelm 
Wessels, war artist with the Afrika Korps, and from Herbert 
Gtinther, Rommel's batman for nearly four years. 

Lastly, I owe a great debt to my wife, who suggested the 
idea to me, kept me up to it and, in the intervals of 
marketing, cooking and dealing with a litter of puppies, 
contrived somehow to type what I wrote — and to improve 
it by criticism. 

Cottage du Grand Gondin 

Valescure. (Var.) D. Y. 



CONTENTS 

Foreword by Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck Page 9 

PRELUDE 13 

I. BENGHAZI (RETURN) 16 

II. "OUR FRIEND ROMMEL *' 23 

III. BETWEEN TWO WARS 46 

IV. GHOST DIVISION 69 
V. "NONE SO BLIND . . 84 

VI. DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 95 

I. Rommel v. Wavell 95 

II. Operation Crusader 112 

VII. TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 128 

VIII. SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 142 

1. " Desert-worthy *' 142 

n. Nostr'alleati Italian i 153 

hi. Civil war 159 

IX. THE END IN AFRICA 175 

X. THE ATLANTIC WALL 203 

XI. "A PITILESS DESTINY" 233 

Appendix One: Rommel's Record of Service 273 

Appendix Two: The Rommel Papers 273 

■ 

Index 3°9 



7 



LIST OF MAPS 



Western Desert Battle Fields 
The El Alamein Position 



8 



FOREWORD 



By Field-marshal Sir Claude J. E. Auchinleck, 

G»G*B*} G.C.I.E.j C«B«j G«S«I»j D.S»0.^ 0»B»1£» 

In this book is reproduced a letter which I thought 
necessary to send to my commanders in the field when the 
name of Rommel was acquiring almost magical properties 
in the minds of our soldiers. An enemy commander does 
not gain a reputation of this sort unless he is out of the 
ordinary and Rommel was certainly exceptional. Germany 
produces many ruthlessly efficient generals: Rommel stood 
out amongst them because he had overcome the innate 
rigidity of the German military mind and was a master of 
improvisation. 

The German junior officers of the Afrika Korps, the 
platoon, company and battalion commanders, were, it 
always seemed to me, better grounded in tactics than our 
own. This was not the fault of our men but of the peculiar 
tasks laid on our Army in peace and of the lack of any really 
systematic training. As the war went on, our men found 
their feet and, more often than not, outmatched the 
Germans because their natural tactical instinct was 
developed and forced to display itself by stress of circum- 
stance. But in the higher ranks Rommel remained pre- 
eminent as a leader on the battlefield. I can testify myself 
to his resilience, resourcefulness and mental agility and so 
long as we are still unhappily obliged to train our youth 
to arms and our officers to lead them into battle, there is 
much that we can learn from a study of him and his 
methods. 

9 



10 



FOREWORD 



My own contacts with Rommel were confined to en- 
counters with him and the Afrika Korps in the campaigns 
of 1941-42 in the Western Desert, but after reading the 
story of his earlier and later years I find that my idea of 
him, formed in those strenuous days when the battle was 
swinging back and forth between Benghazi and Alexandria, 
does not differ much from the author's considered apprecia- 
tion. In one respect, however, my conception was wrong. 
J was surprised to learn how simple and homely he seems 
to have been. I think that we who were fighting against 
him pictured him as a typical Junker officer, a product of 
the Prussian military machine. 

That he evidently was not and it may well be that this 
accounts for his amazing — and it was amazing — success as 
a leader of men in battle. 

Rommel gave me and those who served under my com- 
mand in the Desert many anxious moments. There could 
never be any question of relaxing our efforts to destroy him 
for if ever there was a general whose sole preoccupation was 
the destruction of the enemy, it was he. He showed no 
mercy and expected none. Yet I could never translate my 
deep detestation of the regime for which he fought into 
personal hatred of him as an opponent. If I say, now that 
he is gone, that I salute him as a solclier and a man and 
deplore the shameful manner of his death, I may be accused 
of belonging to what Mr. Bevin has called the " trade union 
of generals." So far as I know, should such a fellowship 
exist, membership of it implies no more than recognition in 
an enemy of the qualities one would wish to possess oneself, 
respect for a brave, able and scrupulous opponent and a 
desire to see him treated, when beaten, in the way one 
would have wished to be treated had he been the winner 
and oneself the loser. This used to be called chivalry: 
many will now call it nonsense and say that the days when 
such sentiments could survive a war are past. If they are, 
then I, for one, am sorry. 



FOREWORD 



II 



The author of this book, Brigadier Desmond Young* has 
spared no pains to learn the facts of RommePs life and 
death from his family and others and I cannot think of 
any one better fitted to record them. A veteran of the first 
World War, he was in the thick of the fighting in the 
Desert until he had the bad luck to be taken at Gazala 
while the battle was still in the balance. He is an old 
friend of mine and, after his escape from enemy hands, 
became one of my staff officers. In Delhi and on long trips 
in aircraft about the world we have talked about most 
subjects under the sun. But, lest I be suspected of having 
inspired his views of military matters on winch different 
opinions may well be held, I should perhaps say that I have 
never discussed with him the conduct of the war in North 
Africa. His conclusions about that, as about most other 
things, are his own, for he is a man of independent mind. 
As for his book, I read it only after it had already gone to 
the printers. I did so with the greatest interest and enjoy- 
ment, and 1 am sure that it will prove as fascinating to 
others as it was to me. That apart, I welcome it because 
it does justice to a stout-hearted adversary and may help 
to show to a new generation of Germans that it is not their 
soldierly qualities which we dislike but only the repeated 
misuse of diem by their rulers. 



PRELUDE 



Shambling along in the first, sharp sunshine of a June 
morning we had just cleared the minefield west of Bir 
Harmat. It was in and around the headquarters of 10th 
Indian Infantry Brigade at Bir Harmat that we had been 
overrun by German tanks the evening before. Like all 
prisoners who have spent a night in the open, we were a 
scruffy lot. British and Indian, some shivering in bush-shirts 
and shorts, some muffled to the eyes in greatcoats, blankets 
and Balaclava helmets, all unshaven, unwashed, tired, hun- 
gry and disarranged inside, we were beginning to realise that 
what was jocularly known in the Middle East as " going 
into the bag " was not much of a joke after all. Our guards 
glanced at us from time to time with the dispassionate con- 
tempt with which we ourselves had so often surveyed the 
endless columns of captive Italians. Terrified, normally, of 
mines, I trudged along through the fringe of the minefield 
for easier walking. It was only when a young German sol- 
dier called me sharply back to the column that I looked 
down to see where I was putting my feet — and then I did 
not very much care. 

On the other side of the minefield we passed in front of a 
German battery in action. Our guns and some tanks, hull- 
down, were evidently looking for it. Shell from a 25-pounder 
battery and tracer from the tanks began to fall round the 
column. A young H.L.I. officer near me had his foot blown 
off. There were shouts of alarm from up in front. By a 
common impulse, everyone broke into a shuffling double. I 
ran for a few yards with the rest and then, because it is just 
as easy to run into shell-bursts as out of them, dropped back 
into a walk. Soon I found myself alongside the blond young 

13 



14 



ROMMEL 



representative of the Afrika Korps who was bringing up the 
rear. He motioned to me to run. I took off my cap and 
showed him my grey hairs. Like a young sheepdog, doubt- 
ful whether to pick up a straggler or to keep the rest of 
the flock together, he hesitated. Then he doubled off in 
pursuit, beckoning to me to follow. 

Since the battery seemed occupied with its own affairs, I 
strolled off casually to the flank. Fifty yards or so away I 
found what I was looking for, a slit trench. I slid into it and 
pulled the soil down on top of me. Capture in the desert 
was seldom final. With luck I might lie there until dark and 
then have a cut at getting through the minefield. Home, by 
now, might not be until El Adem, but plenty of people had 
walked much farther than that. 

Twenty minutes later I was picked up. A German officer, 
standing up in his truck, spotted me as he passed, and 
stopped. I was hauled out and driven to the head of the 
column, still under sporadic shellfire. Before I could mingle 
with the rest of the party a German captain shouted to me 
in English : "You are the senior officer here?" Perhaps I 
was. Certainly I was the oldest. " You will go in a staff-car 
with two German officers under a flag of truce and tell your 
battery over there to stop firing. They are only endangering 
your own men." That was true enough. One's natural 
instinct as a prisoner-of-war is not, however, to do as one is 
told. I said that I did not think that I could do that. " Then 
you will detail another officer to do it." I said that I did not 
think I could give such an order either. (I spent odd 
moments during the next sixteen months wondering how 
they would have got me back if I had reached the battery 
and whether I had not been a fool to refuse.) 

At this moment a Volkswagen drove up. Out of it jumped 
a short, stocky but wiry figure, correctly dressed, unlike the 
rest of us, in jacket and breeches. I noticed that he had a 
bright blue eye, a firm jaw and an air of command. One 
did not need to understand German to realise that he was 



PRELUDE 



15 



asking " What goes on here?" They talked together for a 
few seconds. Then the officer who spoke English turned to 
me. " The General rules/' he said sourly, " that if you do 
not choose to obey the order I have just given you, you can- 
not be compelled to do so." I looked at the general and saw, 
as I thought, the ghost of a smile. At any rate his interven- 
tion seemed to be worth a salute. I cut him one before I 
stepped back into the ranks to be driven off into captivity. 

I could hardly have failed to recognise Rommel. But I 
could hardly have supposed that, only a few years later, his 
widow would be showing me his death-mask and telling me 
the story of his murder. 



Chapter One 
BENGHAZI (RETURN) 

In the middle of February, 1941, British stock stood sky- 
high in Egypt. Those unfailing barometers of our fortunes, 
the barmen of Cairo and Alexandria, became so effusive 
that occasionally they could barely restrain themselves from 
setting up a round " on the house." Stiff ragis lost something 
of their camel-like air of contempt; even Egyptian taxi- 
drivers grew approximately polite. In the higher reaches, 
fat pashas invited senior British officers to the Mahomed 
Ali Club. There were garden-parties in the gardens of the 
rich around Gezireh. Cairo society ceased to practise its 
Italian. Relations between the Monarch and His Britannic 
Majesty's Ambassador were reputed to verge upon the cor- 
dial. In a word, the East (and in this there is no difference 
between Near and Middle and Far) was making its instinc- 
tive salaam to success. Only the shopkeepers of the Kasr- 
el-Nil, torn between a patriotic desire to see the last of us 
and a deeper-rooted reluctance to see the last of our money, 
reflected gloomily that the stream of piastres might soon be 
diverted to their opposite numbers in Tripoli. 

On our side, the personable young women working as 
telephonists in G.H.Q. or as probationers in the hospitals 
stared with open admiration as one of the young lions of the 
11th Hussars sauntered in his cherry-coloured slacks through 
the lounge of Shepheard's or the roof-garden of the 
Continental. For these were the most famous of the " desert 
rats " of the famous 7th Armoured Division. It was they 
who had struck the first blow, crossing the frontier wire the 
night after Italy entered the war and returning with a batch 



BENGHAZI (RETURN ) 



17 



f>i Italian prisoners. Thereafter, for these past eight months, 
they had lived in the enemy's pockets, roaming behind his 
lines in their armoured cars, watching his every move, shoot- 
ing him up along the coast road until he was afraid to stir 
after dark. Only the Long Range Desert Group was later 
to equal their reputation for daring. Even the escorts of the 
young women had to admit that, though the cavalry might 
be a trifle snob, a good British cavalry regiment " had 
something." 

In the cloakrooms of the hotels the felt caps of the Rifle 
Brigade, with their silver Maltese crosses, hung beside those 
of the 60th with their red bosses and slung bugles. In the 
bar, the officers of these two almost equally famous bat- 
talions of the Support Group reluctantly conceded to each 
other a common humanity which they were unwilling to 
recognise in any one else, except, of course, the cavalry and 
the R.H.A. 

As for the Australians, strolling through the streets, ob- 
livious of senior officers, or driving, according to their 
custom, ten up in shabby victorias, they surveyed sardoni- 
cally the town which their fathers had " taken apart " at the 
end of the first war. From time to time, they broke into 
" Waltzing Matilda " or " The Wizard of Oz." The caf6 
proprietors, the dragomen, the vendors of fly-whisks and 
erotic postcards regarded them with a respect born of 
apprehension rather than affection. 

Setting an example to Cairo in turn-out and saluting, 
" details " left behind by 4th Indian Division, now departed 
to fresh victories in Eritrea and Abyssinia, moved inconspi- 
cuously among the crowds. 

If Egypt had a good opinion of the Army of the Nile, the 
Army of the Nile had a good conceit of itself — and with 
reason. In the last two months it had advanced 500 miles. 
It had beaten and destroyed an Italian army of four corps, 
comprising nine divisions and part of a tenth. It had cap-r 
tured 130,000 prisoners, 400 tanks and 1290 guns, besides 



18 



ROMMEL 



vast quantities of other material. (Included in "other 
material " were clean sheets and comfortable beds, silk 
shirts, elaborate toilet-sets in Florentine leather, scent and 
scented "hair-muck," becoming blue cavalry-cloaks, vino 
and liquor e of all varieties, Pellegrino water in profusion, to 
say nothing of a motor-caravan of young women, " officers 
for the use of . . /' The Italians went to war in comfort.) 
When General Berganzoli ("Electric Whiskers ") surren- 
dered unconditionally on February 7th, he was joined in 
captivity in Dehra Dun by more general officers than India 
had seen together since the 1911 Durbar. 

The army of Graziani which, it had seemed the previous 
summer, had only to jump into its trucks and drive to Cairo, 
under cover of a superior air force, and which, indeed, might 
well have done so, had been swept from the map. Graziani 
himself, complaining that Mussolini had compelled him to 
wage war "as a flea against an elephant," ("a peculiar 
flea," commented the Duce, " with more than a thousand 
guns "), had posted his will to his wife and retired, first to 
a Roman tomb, 70 feet deep, in Cirene and then to Italy. 

All this had been achieved at a cost of 500 killed, 1373 
wounded and 55 missing, by a force only three divisions 
strong, of which only two divisions were employed at one 
time in the operations — 7 th Armoured Division and 4th 
Indian Division, the latter relieved after the battle of Sidi - 
Barrani by 6th Australian Division. 

The echoes of General Wavell's offensive were soon 
drowned in the thunder of greater battles on the Russian 
front. It became the fashion to decry victories won over the 
Italians. But in the very decision to attack an enemy so 
overwhelmingly superior in numbers, in the plan whereby 
our troops were to lie up for a whole day in the open desert 
within thirty miles of him, penetrate his line of forts by 
night unseen and then turn and attack them from the rear 
at dawn, was the first sign of military genius on our side. 

Badly-officered and with little heart for the war, the 



BENGHAZI (RETURN) 



19 



Italians crumbled under the shock of surprise, of the dis- 
covery that their field-guns could not pierce the armour of 
our " I " tanks and of the assault of troops whose standard 
of training was as high as their spirit. Better divisions have 
done the same before and since. But it is wrong to suppose 
that these operations were just a glorified field-day. At 
Nibeiwa many of the Italian gunners served their pieces 
until the tanks ran over them. General Maletti, already 
wounded, was killed firing a machine-gun from his tent. At 
Beda Fomm the 2nd Rifle Brigade alone beat off nine tank 
attacks, pressed home with determination. 

Whether, had he been allowed to try, General Wavell 
could have gone on to Tripoli, thus turning what had been 
planned as a five-day raid into a major offensive, is another 
matter. Would our worn-out tanks and over-taxed transport 
have been equal to another five hundred miles? Would not 
the still intact Italian divisions in Tripoli, secure from sur- 
prise, have fortified the line Homs-Tirhuana, as General 
Montgomery expected the Germans to do nearly two years 
later? Could Benghazi have been used as a supply port 
under intensive bombing? Above all, would not the 
Germans have reacted and flown over their reserve airborne 

■ 

divisions from southern Italy? On the whole, it seems that 
General O'Connor, commanding Western Desert Force, 
would have found himself " out on a limb," even if he had 
reached Tripoli. At that time we had not the means to 
exploit an operation which had already succeeded beyond 
our wildest dreams. 

m 

Still, Egypt was safe, the Axis power in North Africa 
broken and British prestige in the Middle East restored. For 
the first time since the Battle of Britain, people at home had 
something to celebrate. 

Two months later there was consternation in Cairo and 
British stock slumped as quickly as it had risen. Gradually 
the details of the. disaster filtered through. Benghazi eva- 



20 



ROMMEL 



cuated, that was unfortunate but no doubt " according to 
plan"; 2nd Armoured Division, recently arrived from 
England, destroyed as a fighting force, its commander, 
Major-General Gambier-Parry and his headquarters cap- 
tured at Mechili; 3rd Indian Motor Brigade overrun there 
in its first action; 9th Australian Division invested in 
Tobruk; Lieut-General Sir Richard O'Connor, promoted 
and knighted for his recent success, "in the bag" with 
Lieut-General Philip Neame, V.C. and Lieut-Colonel John 
Combe of the 1 1 th Hussars ; Bard i a, Solium and Capuzzo 
gone; the enemy back on the escarpment; the threat to 
Egypt greater than ever. Not even " a Cairo spokesman " 
could succeed in convincing the world that this was merely 
" a propaganda success," not even the honeyed tones of the 
B.B.C. commentator, Mr. Richard Dimbleby, gloss over it. 

Not, at least, so far as the Egyptians were concerned. A 
cynical and realistic race, especially where their own 
interests are involved, they saw the red light quickly. The 
Italians, they had never thought much of them. But these 
Germans, what soldiers ! Real professionals, like our own 
Egyptian Army. It was to be hoped that they would respect 
property in Cairo and not play tricks with the currency.' 
Perhaps it would be as well to keep up one's Italian and even 
to learn a little German. . . . Meanwhile, better continue tot 
be civil to the British, just in case. . . . But no need to overdo 
it. Neither then nor later did they ever entirely desert Mr; 
Micawber. There were, however, notable variations in the! 
temperature of their affection for him. 

Though the fog of war lay rather unnecessarily thick on 
our command in the forward areas and there were several 
" regrettable incidents," there was no mystery about General 
WavelFs defeat. The seeds of it were sown when the Chiefs 
of Staff telegraphed to him, immediately after the fall of 
Benghazi, telling him to be prepared to send the largest 
possible army and air forces from the Middle East to Greece. 
When those forces, part of 2nd Armoured-Division, the New 



BENGHAZI (RETURN) 



21 



Zealand Division, the 6th and 7 th Australian Divisions and 
the Polish Brigade Group, were duly dispatched, he lost 
"practically the whole of the troops which were fully 
equipped and fit for operations." 

In the last resort, the statesmen must overrule the soldiers, 
for they alone see the whole picture. It may be that, for 
political reasons, the British Government could not have 
refused to send help to Greece, even though the Greeks 
showed no great enthusiasm for it. The help was necessarily 
insufficient and the dispersion of effort made failure on both 
fronts inevitable. Those who find comfort in "second 
guessing " may argue that the dispatch of British troops con- 
vinced Hitler that there was some secret agreement between 
the British and Soviet Governments and postponed the in- 
vasion of Russia by several vital weeks. The evidence hardly 
seems to support them. What is certain is that the loss of 
47,000 trained men led directly to a major defeat in the 
Middle East. 

General Wavell, or his Intelligence Staff, made one mis- 
take for which he was, characteristically, the first to take the 
blame. From the information available to him, he calcu- 
lated that not before May at the earliest could there be a 
German offensive against Cyrenaica, even if it were a fact, 
for which there was no direct evidence (indeed, such evi- 
dence as there was seemed to contradict it), that German 
troops were on their way to Tripoli. When, at the end of 
February, they were reported to be already in Libya, he 
still considered that no attack was likely before the middle of 
April and hoped that it might not materialise before May. 
In fact it was launched on March 31st. 

Even this error was very far from being entirely his fault. 
In 1939 and 1940 the policy of appeasement was still being 
actively pursued and, because His Majesty's Government 
" wished to do nothing that might impair their existing rela- 
tions with Italy " (relations which, on Mussolini's side, were 
founded about equally on dislike and contempt for the 



ROMMEL 



apparently toothless lion), he had not been permitted to set 
up an intelligence service in Italian territory. In North 
Africa he had no agents at all before Italy came into the 
war and it was not possible until long afterwards to " plant " 
them. Thus the 5th Light Motorised Division was able to 
land in Tripoli without his knowing anything about it. 

Like many another British general before him in the early 
stages of a war, General Wavell was called upon to shoulder 
'* responsibilities for which my resources were completely 
inadequate." He shouldered them uncomplainingly and 
soon had a revolt in Iraq and a minor war against the Vichy 
French in Syria added to them for good measure. Having 
dealt successfully with the latter, he was removed from his 
command. Such, at any rate, was the impression made upon 
the troops in the Middle East and explanations, whether 
well founded or not, that he needed a rest or was being 
translated to a sphere of even greater responsibility, did not 
change their feeling that he had been kicked upstairs for 
having failed to do the impossible in Greece. It was not the 
last time that, having rendered outstanding services to his 
country, he was to find himself treated with barely per- 
functory politeness by his country's government. 

Such were the circumstances of the disaster in Cyrenaica. 
But if, in the early summer of 1941, one had stopped the 
first passer-by in the streets of Cairo and asked him the 
reason for this astonishing reversal of fortune, it is odds-on 
that he would have replied in one word : " Rommel." 



Chapter Two 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL" 

To : All Commanders and Chiefs of Staff 
From : Headquarters, B.T.E. and M.E.F. 

There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel 
is becoming a kind of magician or bogey-man to 
our troops, who are talking far too much about 
him. He is by no means a superman, although he 
. is undoubtedly very energetic and able. Even if 
he were a superman, it would still be highly 
undesirable that our men should credit him with 
supernatural powers. 

I wish you to dispel by all possible means the idea 
that Rommel represents something more than an 
ordinary German general. The important thing 
now is to see to it that we do not always talk of 
Rommel when we mean the enemy in Libya. We 
must refer to " the Germans " or " the Axis 
powers" or "the enemy" and not always keep 
harping on Rommel. 

F:iease ensure that this order is put into immediate 
effect, and impress upon all Commanders that, 
from a psychological point of view, it is a matter 
of the highest importance. 

(Signed) C. J. Auchinleck, 

General, 
Commander-in-Chief, M.E.F.* 

* Although I remember this order very well, as do most people who served in the 
Middle Emu I have been unable to obtain, even from its author, a copy of the original. 
I have had, therefore, to rely on a re-translation of the translation preserved amongst 
Rommel's papers by his family. There may be slight verbal discrepancies between the 
two versions but the sense is the same. 

23 



24 ROMMEL 

■ 

In any war, the number of generals who succeed in im- 
posing their personalities on their own troops, let alone those 
of the enemy, is far smaller than generals themselves may 
like to -believe. Take World War I, when it was said with 
some truth that few British soldiers knew the name of their 
Divisional commander. How many of the 4< high brass " 
meant anything to the " other ranks " ? Haig, well, they had 
heard of him, of course. His " backs to the wall " order in 
1918 had a human ring about it. But it was not until the 
survivors were demobilised and came to learn how he was 
devoting his last years to their welfare that that remote, 
solitary and slightly unsympathetic figure made any positive 
impression. Plumer and Allenby? Perhaps. But for the 
rest, the Byngs, the Rawlinsons, the Homes and so on, all 
capable commanders in their way, who even knew when he 
was serving in their armies ? Indeed, in the long span from 
the Duke of Wellington to Lord Montgomery, the senior 
British generals who were heroes in the eyes of the private 
soldier could be counted on two hands and would include 
such bizarre figures as General Sir Redvcrs Builer. 

As for World War II, " Monty " himself, " Bill " Slim 
and <f Dickie " Mountbatten all had the common touch in 
an uncommon degree. So had " Alex," who, one imagines, 
never gave it a thought. So, in some strange fashion, had 
Wavell, in spite of his extreme taciturnity. At least the 
troops never doubted his competence and sensed his well- 
concealed kindness of heart. " The Auk " was an inspira- 
tion to every Indian soldier. On lower levels there were the 
Freybergs, the " Strafer " Gotts, the u Jock " Campbells and, 
presumably, many more like them in other theatres of war. 
But the soldier's general remains a rare bird and the general 
who is known to the rank-and-file of the enemy a still rarer 
one. 

Amongst such, Rommel was a phenomenon, a nonpareil. 
The instruction quoted at the beginning of this chapter gave 
rise to much discussion and some derision when it was issued 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL " 



25 



in Cairo. Nevertheless it was necessary and, indeed, overdue. 
For Rommel had so identified himself with the Afrika 
Korps, had so impressed himself upon his opponents, was 
getting such a " build-up " from British and American war 
correspondents, as well as from even pro-British newspapers 
in Cairo, that he was already the best-known and not far 
from the most popular figure in the Middle East Our own 
troops referred to him, half-affectionately, as " that b . . . 
Rommel," which, as I learnt not long ago, was precisely 
how he was referred to by the Afrika Korps itself. When 
they added, as they often did, " YouVe got to hand it to 
the b . . ."it needed no psychologist to sec that the sport- 
ing spirit of the British soldier could easily produce a mild 
inferiority complex. That did, in fact, occur. Newcomers 
to the Desert and even a minority of the old " desert rats " 
were inclined to explain : " We bumped into Germans," as 
though that in itself was a sufficient excuse for failure. To 
the tew who remembered the quite unwarranted accents of 
pity and contempt with which we used to speak of " poor 
old Fritz " in the first war, it seemed that there was a real 
danger of Rommel and the Afrika Korps securing a moral 
ascendancy. Perhaps those rather too easy victories over 
the Italians had not been very good for us after all. 

Granted the build-up, it is still hard to see why Rommel 
so quickly became " un type dans le genre de Napotton" 
a bogey to the back-areas and to civilians in Cairo, as well 
as a r^iore personal and proximate menace to those farther 
forward. 

Though he emerged like the Demon King from a trap, 
unfortunately anticipating his cue, even our Intelligence 
Staff knew very little about him, either as a soldier or as a 
man. This was because the British had largely relied upon 
their French allies for " profiles " of German generals and 
for those personal details which enable a commander to 
estimate his opponent. The sudden collapse of France cut 
them off from this contact and the dossiers doubtless re- 



26 



ROMMEL 



mained in the French Ministry of War, to be read by the 
subjects of them. Thus the War Office was able to supply 
General Wavell and his staff with only a meagre report 
about Rommel. From this it appeared that he was a rather 
impetuous individual who had done well in the first war and 
as a divisional commander in the invasion of France but was 
by no means in the top flight of German generals. It was 
suggested that he was a keen Nazi and that his selection for 
North Africa was due to party favouritism. 

The background was both sketchy and incorrect. Indeed, 
me most fantastic stories about Rommel's origin and early 
career are still afloat. For example, in that otherwise well- 
documented book, Defeat in the West, we are told that he 
was a member, with Goering, Hess, Roehm, Bormann, and 
more of the sort, of the Free Corps, a group of " irrespon- 
sible, swashbuckling men " who grew " increasingly more 
aggressive and brutal in their suppression of disorders " in 
Germany after the Armistice in 1918, and supplied " the 
most promising leaders of the bullying gangs of latter-day 
Hitlerite S.A. and S.S." Other reports say that he was the 
son of a labourer and one of the first of the Nazi storm- 
troopers; others that he was an N.G.O. who rose from the 
ranks during the first war; others that he was a policeman 
between the two wars. 

The truth is less highly coloured. Rommel was, from first 
to last, a regular officer and, as is shown by the extract from 
h„is Wehrpass or record of service, printed at the end of this 
book, from the day he joined his regiment to the day he 
died, he was never off the strength of the German Army. 
He never belonged to the Free Corps, he was never a police- 
man, he was never a member of the Nazi Party, still less a 
storm-trooper, and his connection with Hitler came about 
quite fortuitously. 

The source of some at least of the legends is not difficult 
to discover. In the summer of 1941 an anonymous article 
about Rommel appeared in Goebbels' paper, Das Reich, 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL " 



27 



This article, which was commended to the attention of the 
foreign correspondents in Berlin, announced that Rommel 
was the son of a working-man, mat he left the army after 
the first war to study at Tubingen University, that he was 
one of the first storm-troop leaders and became a close friend 
of Hitler and so on and so on. 

Rommel saw the cutting in North Africa and reacted 
violently. What did they ritean, he wrote to the Propaganda 
Ministry, by circulating fabricated stories about him ? The 
Propaganda Ministry tried to get out of it by saying that 
perhaps Obcrleutenant Tschimpke, author of a book about 
the 7th Panzer Division, which Rommel commanded in 
France, had supplied the information. Rommel then found 
time, the battle of Halfaya Pass being over, to turn on the 
unfortunate Tschimpke. Had he in fact given this infor- 
mation and if so what did he mean by it? Tschimpke re- 
plied to Rommel denying that he had done anything of the 
sort. He also wrote to the Propaganda Ministry to ask why 
they had got him into trouble with the general. The answer, 
from Presseabteilung der Reichsregierung, Abt. Auslands- 
presse, Gruppe: Information , Wilhelmplatz 8-9, dated 
October 10th, 1941, and signed " Ileil Hitler, Dr. Meissner," 
was one of those comic masterpieces which explain why, in 
the long run, German propaganda could never be effective. 
What had been written about General Rommel in the 
article, said the doctor, could do no harm to the reputation 
of that excellent man. Indeed, it could only do good, by 
making him a more familiar and sympathetic figure to the 
foreign war correspondents. Perhaps, he concluded, it 
would have been a good thing, from the propaganda point 
of view, if the statements, though admittedly incorrect, had, 
in fact, been true. 

Tschimpke sent the letter to Rommel, who preserved it 
amongst his papers. He also preserved a strong dislike and 
suspicion of any one having anything to do with propaganda 
or " public relations." The first victim was an unfortunate 



28 ROMMEL 

■ 

young officer named Berndt, who came out to join the 
Afrika Korps after service in the Propaganda Ministry. 
Reporting to Rommel, to whom he had been personally 
commended, he was promptly told to go out that evening, 
his first in the desert, and make a "recce" behind the 
British lines. Berndt was a brave and intelligent young man 
and returned from this unpromising assignment with some 
British prisoners and valuable information. Thereafter 
Rommel made an exception of him and later used to send 
him back to Berlin with reports which he did not wish to go 
through staff channels. But visiting publicists were always 
suspect. 

What weie the facts, which Dr. Goebbels* young men 
could easily have ascertained from the Ministry of War or 
from Rommel's family, if they did not already know them? 

Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born at noon on 
Sunday, November 15th 1891, at Heidenheim, a small town 
in Wiirttcmberg, near Ulm. His father, also Erwin Rommel, 
was a schoolmaster and the son of a schoolmaster. Both 
father and grandfather were mathematicians of some dis- 
traction. Since those were the days when learning was still 
more highly regarded in Germany than loyalty to a political 
party, Herr Professor Rommel was much respected in 
Heidenheim. In 1886 he married Helena, eldest daughter 
of Karl von Luz, President of the Government of Wiirttem- * 
berg and thus a prominent person in those parts. There 
were five children of the marriage, a son, Manfred, who 
died young, a daughter, Helena, unmarried and now teach- 
ing at the well-known Waldorfsckule at Stuttgart, Erwin 
Rommel himself and his younger brothers, Karl and 
Gcrhardt. Karl is almost completely crippled from malaria, 
caught while serving as a pilot in Turkey and Mesopotamia 
during the 1914-18 war. Gerhardt supplied the only touch 
of exotic colour to the otherwise conventional Rommel 
family by abandoning agriculture to become an opera* 



* c OUR* FRIEND ROMMEL " 



29 



singer. This profession he still pursues, without any great 
success arid to the mild embarrassment of his relations, at 
Ulm. 

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ 

In 1898, Rommel's father became Director of the Real- 
gymnasium at Aalen, in other words headmaster of a school 
in which " Modern Side " subjects rather than classics are 
taught. In 1913 he died suddenly after an operation. His 
wife outlived him by twenty-seven years and died only in 
1940, when her second son was already a Major-Gencral. 

" Tough " is the adjective most obviously appropriate to 
Rommel of the Afrika Korps but as a small boy Erwin Rom- 
mel was the reverse of tough. " He was a very gentle and 
docile child," says his sister, "who took after his mother. 
Small for his age, he had a white skin and hair so pale that 
we called him the * white bear.' He spoke very slowly and 
only after reflecting for a long time. He was very good- 
tempered and amiable and not afraid of any one. When 
other children used to run away from the chimney-sweeps, 
with their black faces and top hats, he would go up 
solemnly and shake hands with them. We had a very sunny 
childhood, brought up by kind and affectionate parents who 
taught us their own love of nature. Before we went to 
school we used to play all day in the garden or in the fields 
and woods." 

■ 

School at Aalen did not agree with young Rommel after 
the freedom of Heidenheim. Finding himself behind the 
others %jf his age, he became even paler in the attempt to 
catch up, lost his appetite and could not sleep. Then he 
grew lazy and inattentive and made no effort. He was so 
careless that he became the butt of his class. *' If Rommel 
ever shows up a dictation without a mistake," said the 
schoolmaster, " we will hire a band and go off for a day in 
the country." Rommel sat up and promptly turned in a 
dictation without even a comma out of place. When the 
promised excursion did not come off, he relapsed into his 
usual indifference. For several years he remained a dreamy 



30 



ROMMEL 



little boy, taking no interest in books or games and showing 
no sign of that intense physical energy which he afterwards 
developed. 

Then, when he was in his 'teens, he suddenly woke up. 
Mentally, lie began to give evidence of having inherited the 
mathematical talent of his father and grandfather. Physi- 
cally, he started to spend every spare moment in summer 
on his bicycle and in winter on skis. He passed his examina- 
tions with credit. He lost his dreamy # abstracted, air and 
reverted to the type of Wurttemberg, " the home of com- 
mon sense in Germany." He became hard-headed and prac- 
tical — and very careful of his money, another Wurttem- 
berger characteristic. With his great friend Keitel (no rela- 
tion of the Field-Marshal who subsequently became one of 
his bitterest enemies), he applied himself to the study of air- 
craft. Together the two boys built model aeroplanes and 
then a full-scale glider in which they made repeated but 
unsuccessful attempts to leave the ground. They began to 
think about their future careers. Keitel had already made 
up his mind to become an engineer and find employment at 
the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen. He did so and Rom- 
mel would probably have gone with him had his father 
agreed. 

His father opposed the idea and it was then that Rommel 
decided to join the army. The family had no military tradi- 
tion, except that Rommel senior had served for a time as a 
lieutenant in the artillery, before retiring to become a 
schoolmaster. Nor had the Rommels any influential friends 
in military circles : they were a respectable Swabian family 
of moderate means, far removed in education and environ- 
ment from the Prussian officer class. Rommel was after- 
wards to have serving under him in Africa generals of aris- 
tocractic family, large fortune and military connections 
which destined them to life in a good regiment from birth, 
and, given ordinary ability, almost assured them of 
accelerated promotion. Such career as he might have in the 



(< OUR FRIEND ROMMEL " 



31 



army would have to be carved out by himself and there 
seemed no reason to suppose that he wouldl end up as more 
than an elderly major, living in retirement on a modest 
pension in some small town like Heidenheim itself. 

On July 19th, 1910, he joined the 124th Infantry Regi- 
ment (Koenig Wilhelm I, 6th Wurttemberg), at Weingarten 
as an "aspirant" or, approximately, officer cadet, which 
meant that he had first to serve in the ranks before going to 
a Kriegsschule or War Academy. He was promoted corporal 
in October and sergeant at the end of December. In March, 
1911, he was posted to the Kriegsschule at Danzig. 

Rommel's time at Danzig was important to him in more 
ways than one. It was there that he met, through a friend 
in the War Academy who had a cousin in the same 
boarding-school, the girl whom he was afterwards to marry 
and who was the only woman in his life. Lucie Maria 
Mollin was the daughter of a landowner in West Prussia 
where the family, Italian in origin, had been settled since 
the thirteenth century. Her father died when she was a 

child and she was now in Danzig, studying to be a teacher 
of languages. Rommel fell in love with her at once and she 

with him and although they did not become formally en- 
gaged for another four years there was never any doubt in 
either of their minds. According to his widow, Rommel at 
this time was already a serious-minded young man, intensely 
preoccupied with doing well in his profession. Examinations 
still did not come as easily to him as the practical side of 
soldiering and he had to work hard at his books. However, 
Danzig was a pleasant city in which to be young and in love 
and, as they both enjoyed outdoor life and dancing, they 
spent a happy summer whenever, chaperoned by the cousin, 
they could escape from school. 

Rommel duly passed his examinations, if not with great 
distinction at any rate with marks above the average, and, 
at the end of January, 1912, received his commission as a 



32 ROMMEL 

2nd Lieutenant and returned to his regiment. He and 
Fraulein Moliin wrote to each other every day. 

In Weingarten, where the regimental barracks were in the 
massive old monastery, Rommel was turned on for two years 
to the training of recruits. He was good at drill and good 
with men and, like the young Montgomery when he first 
joined a battalion, was observed to be unusually interested 
in the minutia; of military organisation. Otherwise there 
was nothing to suggest tliat he was anything out of the 
ordinary. Physically he was still undersized, though wiry 
and strong, mentally he was in no way distinguished. Un- 
like Montgomery, he was not argumentative and preferred 
to listen rather than to talk, as he did throughout his life. 
Since he neither smoked nor drank and was already, in his 
own eyes, engaged, the after-dark amusements of a small 
garrison town did not appeal to him. The other subalterns 
found him quiet and too serious for his age but good- 
tempered and agreeable, always ready to exchange duties to 
allow the more social to get off, though not prepared to be 
put upon. One or two of them recognised that he had an 
independent mind, a strong will and a sense of humour and 
the N.C.O.s quickly discovered that he would not tolerate 
anything slipshod. He was thus cut out to be a good regi- 
mental officer and, in due course, a good hard-driving 
adjutant. As an adjutant he would, very properly, be un- 
popular with the inefficient but it was already clear that he 
cared less than most young men about popularity. On the 
whole he seemed a fairly typical Wurttemberger, shrewd, 
business-like, careful, with a hard streak in him. 

At the beginning of March, 1914, he was attached to a 
Field Artillery regiment in Ulm and remained with it, en- 
joying the riding and taking pride in the smart turnout of 
his battery, until, on the afternoon of July 3 1st, he returned 
to barracks to find horses being bought in the barrack-square 
and orders awaiting him to rejoin his own regiment at once. 
Next day his company was fitting field equipment. In the 



"OUR FRIEND ROM M EL" 



33 



evening the colonel inspected the regiment in field-grey, 
made a stirring speech and, before dismissing them, 
announced the order for mobilisation. " A jubilant shout of 
German warrior youth echoes through the ancient grey wails 
of the monastery," says Infantcrie Greijt An, Rommel's 
book on tactics, but this and other such comments sound 
less like Rommel than a gloss by a Nazi propagandist, pre- 
paring the 1937 edition for popular consumption. Had the 
" warrior youth " been able to see the memorial panels to 
the tens of thousands of officers and men of the Wiirttem- 
berg regiments which still hang in Ulm Cathedral, they 
might have been less jubilant. Next day the 124th went off 
to war. 

In all armies there is a small minority of professional 
soldiers (and a few amateurs) who find in war the one occu- 
pation to which they are perfectly adapted. Year by year, 
in the In Memoriam column of The Times, my eye catches 
the name of Brigadier-General ** Boy " Bradford, V.G., 
D.S.O., M.G., killed in the Gambrai battle in 1917 at the age 
of 24, and I remember riding over, unduly conspicuous, I 
felt, on a white horse, to his brigade headquarters in front 
of Bourlon Wood and thinking, as I talked to him, that here 
was someone at last who knew his trade and was equal to 
any demands that war might make. I remember, too, 
A. N. S. Jackson, the Olympic runner, my contemporary at 
Oxford and in the regiment, whom I saw married in 1918 
on Pai&ieave, wearing one ribbon only, the D.S.O. with 
three bars. There were others like them but not many. 

Of this small company of exceptional young men was 
Rommel, on the wrong side. From the moment that he first 
came under fire he stood out as the perfect fighting animal, 
cofd, cunning, ruthless, untiring, quick of decision, in- 
credibly brave* At 5 a.m. on the morning of August 22nd, 
1914, he went into action against the French in the village 
of Bleid, near Longwy. He had been patrolling for twenty- 
four hours, was suffering from food poisoning and was so 

R. B 



34 



ROMMEL 



tired that he could hardly sit in the saddle when he was sent 
forward to reconnoitre, in thick fog. Having located the 
village he brought up his platoon. When they were fired 
upon, he halted them and went on with an N.C.O. and two 
men. Out of the fog loomed up a high hedge, surrounding 
a farmhouse. A footpath led past it to another farm. Rom* 
mel followed it. As he came round the corner, he saw fifteen 
or twenty of the enemy standing about in the road. Should 
he go back and bring up the platoon? That first decision 
is not an easy one to make. Much of a man's future conduct 
hangs on it. Rommel did what he was to do again and 
again. Counting on the value of surprise, he collected his 
three men and attacked, firing from the standing position. 
The enemy broke and the survivors took cover and opened 
fire. Rommel found his platoon moving up. Half he armed 
with bundles of straw, the other half he posted to give cover- 
ing fire. Then he advanced again. Doors were beaten in 
and lighted bundles of straw thrown into the houses and 
barns. House by house the village was cleared. It was a 
minor action and of no importance except that it was his 
first and a pattern of the boldness and independence which 
he showed throughout his service. 

Despite his illness and the colossal exertions of the moving 
warfare of that period, he carried on, sometimes fainting 
but never reporting sick, until on September 24th he was 
wounded in the thigh when attacking three Frenchmen in 
a wood near Varennes, alone and with an empty rifle. By 
this time his battalion commander had come to rely on him 
for any particularly tough job and he already had been 
recommended for the Iron Cross, Class II. Three months 
later, as soon as his wound was healed, he rejoined the batta- 
lion. He came up with it in the middle of January in the 
Argonne. On January 29th, 1915, he won his Iron Cross, 
Class I, by crawling with his platoon through a gap in a belt 
of wire nearly a hundred yards deep, into the main French 
position, capturing four blockhouses, beating off an enemy 



" O U R FRIEND ROM MEL " 35 

attack in battalion strength, retaking one of the blockhouses 
from which he had been driven out and then withdrawing 
to his own lines with the loss of less than a dozen men, 
before a new attack could be launched. 

This, again, was only a minor action but it showed Rom- 
mel's readiness to exploit a situation to the limit, regardless 
of the risk involved. It led him time and again into positions 
of fantastic danger and yet enabled him to win every ounce 
of advantage, especially against an irresolute enemy. 

It was doubtless this willingness to take risks and capacity 
for individual action which led to his posting, after promo- 
tion to Oberleiitnant (1st Lieutenant) and a second wound in 
the leg, to a newly-formed mountain battalion, the Wurtt- 
embergischc Gebirgsbataillan (W.G.B.). This was a unit 
larger than the normal battalion, consisting of six rifle com- 
panies and six mountain machine-gun platoons. It never 
fought as a unit but rather as a formation, splitting up into 
two or more Battle Groups (Abteilungen) whose constitution 
varied according to the job in hand. Each battle group was 
given its task and fought under its own commander, who was 
allowed wide freedom of action and had merely to report 
back once a day to the battalion commander. When, after 
intensive training in mountain warfare in Austria and a 
peaceful period of nearly a year in a quiet sector in the 
Vosges, the battalion joined the famous Alpenkorps on the 
Rumanian front, Rommel was quickly entrusted with the 
commft'id of one of these battle groups, which varied in size 
for different actions from one company to the whole batta- 
lion. Meanwhile he had slipped off on leave to Danzig and 
there, on November 27th, 1916, married Lucie Maria 
Mollin. Her photograph, taken at this time, shows her to 
have been a handsome girl, markedly Italian in type, with 
beautifully modelled features. What it does not show, since 
the expression is serious, is that she had a great sense of fun, 
as she still has. Studiousness, courage and strength of 
character are obvious. She was a good wife for a soldier. 



36 ROMMEL 

Some of Rommel's subsequent feats in Rumania and Italy 
would be almost incredible had it not been possible to check 
them by the statements of others who witnessed and took 
part in them. In brief, his method was to infiltrate through 
the enemy lines with a few men, usually laying a telephone 
line as he went. In mountainous country, where the peaks 
and the valleys were likely to be held, he worked round the 
upper slopes, often as steep as the roof of a house and prac- 
ticable only to skilled mountaineers. Whether in icy fog and 
deep snow or in the blazing heat of summer he would keep 
moving at speed by day or night. He had a remarkable eye 
for country and was proof against heat, cold, fatigue and 
lack of food and sleep. Once behind the enemy lines he 
never hesitated to attack, however small his force, for he 
rightly assumed that the sudden appearance of his men in 
rear of their positions and the first devastating burst of 
machine-gun fire from the back areas would shake all but 
the best of troops, which the Rumanians and Italians were 
not. When he took the strongly-fortified Rumanian position 
of Mount Gosna in August, 1917, he led four companies in 
single file through the woods between two enemy posts, 150 
yards apart, without being detected, and laid a telephone 
wire at the same time. By the time he reached the summit 
he had been without sleep for nearly a week and had also 
been severely wounded in the arm several days before by a 
bullet fired from far in his rear. 

When he took the village of Gagesti in January of the 
same year, he lay out until ten o'clock at night within the 
Rumanian outpost line in a temperature ten degrees, below 
freezing. Then, when he judged, correctly, that the 
Rumanians would be asleep in their billets, he opened up on 
the village with his machine-guns and half his rifles and led 
the rest of his troops, cheering, to the attack. As the enemy 
tumbled sleepily out of the houses he collected . them ana 
soon had four, hundred of them locked up in the church. 
His own casualties were negligible. ., . V 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL " 



37 



If he were compelled to make a frontal attack, his prac- 
tice was to open intense machine-gun fire over the whole 
sector, with the heaviest concentration at the point where 
the attack was to be made. Then came an assault with strong 
forces on a very small front. The attacking troops carried 
machine-guns which, as soon as a breach was made, were 
sited for enfilade fire to the flanks. The remainder of the 
assault force pressed on, regardless of what was happening 
in their rear. In other words, he adopted precisely the tac- 
tics of penetration in depth which were employed by the 
German panzer divisions in 1939. 

All this time, it has to be remembered, while Rommel was 
commanding anything up to a battalion, conducting inde- 
pendent operations against the enemy, having his advice 
sought and taken by senior officers on direction and methods 
of attack, he was a young man of twenty-five, looking even 
younger than his age, and in rank only an Oberleutnant 
from a not particularly distinguished line regiment. This in 
the German army, where seniority counted for more than 
in our own, where young men were not normally en- 
couraged to air their opinions and where the standard of 
training was high. That he established an almost unique 
reputation and was known throughout his division, even be- 
fore he went to the mountain battalion, is on record. Yet he 
was not one of those queer personalities who crop up in wars 
and make an impression by being unusual. He merely had 
the qualities of courage, boldness, determination and initia- 
tive in so exceptional a degree that they could not fail to 
attract attention. He was a Freyberg rather than an Orde 
Wingate. 

The climax of his career in World War I was reached 
with the capture of Monte Matajur, south-west of Capo- 
retto, on October 26th, 1917. The Austrians had suffered 
a series of setbacks at the hands of the Italians and had 
appealed for German help. - In spite of their commitments 
elsewhere, the German High Command sent the 14th Army, 



38 



ROMMEL 



consisting of seven veteran divisions, to take part in an off en* 
sive against the Italian positions in the Isonzo valley. The 
Wiirttemberg Mountain Battalion was again assigned to the 
Alpenkorps, which was due to attack in the centre, towards 
Matajur. On the first day the battalion had the task of 
protecting the right flank of a Bavarian regiment which was 
to lead the attack. Thereafter it was to follow on after the 
Bavarians. 

To summarise a long and complicated operation, Rommel 
was not interested in following the Bavarians and persuaded 
his battalion commander, one Major Sprosser, to allow him 
to move off to the right of them and attack the Italian posi- 
tions independently. While the Bavarians were held up, he 
led his troops before dawn, across the Italian front without 
being detected and an advance party succeeded in pene- 
trating the Italian front line at first light and capturing an 
Italian battery position with the bayonet, without a shot 
being fired at them. Rommel left one company to hold and 
widen the gap and pushed on with another into the Italian 
hinterland. He had to return to the help of his first com- 
pany, which was attacked by an entire Italian battalion. 
When he took the Italians in the rear they quickly surren- 
dered. He sent back a message to his battalion commander 
and with it more than a thousand Italian prisoners. On this 
Major Sprosser came up with four more companies. With 
six companies under command, Rommel was permitted to : 
proceed with his break-through into the back areas. Finding 
a road masked from view, he led his whole force along it in 
single file for nearly two miles while the Italians were stilt 
preoccupied with the main battle and bombardment in pro- 
gress on their front. In open country behind the enemy lines, 
he sat on the main road leading towards Monte Matajur 
and captured a ration column, a staff car, 50 officers and • 
2000 men of the 4th Bersaglieri Brigade which was moving 
up. Taking the staff car, he did a preliminary u recce " and 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL." 



39 



decided to cut straight across country to Monte Matajur, 
the key to the enemy position. Throughout the rest of that 
day and the whole of the night he drove on his now ex- 
hausted troops. At dawn he came upon a camp of the 
Salerno Brigade. With two other officers and a few riflemen 
he walked straight into a mass of armed men and ordered 
them to surrender. After a moment's hesitation, 43 officers 
and 1500 men laid down their arms, mainly, it would 
appear, from sheer surprise and the power of the human 
eye. 

When Rommel eventually scaled Monte Matajur from 
the rear and fired his success rockets from the summit, he 
had been continuously on the move for fifty hours, had 
covered twelve miles as the crow flies in mountainous coun- 
try, had climbed up to 7000 feet and had captured 150 
officers, 9000 men and 81 guns. He himself found the lack 
of fighting spirit in the Italians quite incomprehensible. In 
the 1937 edition of Infanterie Greift An he is made to say 
that "to-day the Italian Army is one of the best in the 
world " but here again one suspects a little sub-editing by 
the army propaganda department. 

At any rate, though Rommel could hardly have tried 
such tricks with success against Lord Cavan's British divi- 
sions, it Was a remarkably bold operation. For it he was 
awarded the Pour le Merite, a decoration usually reserved 
for senior generals and, when awarded to junior officers, as 
it was* in only two or three cases, corresponding to the* 
Victoria Gross. He was also promoted Hauptmann or 
Captain. Shortly afterwards, having swum the icy waters 
of the Piave at night with six men roped together, he 
attacked the village of Longarone and captured it, with the 
whole of its considerable garrison, by firing upon it from 
different points in the darkness and, at dawn, walking in 
alone, informing the Italians that they were surrounded and 
ordering them to surrender. He was then sent on leave and, 



40 



ROMMEL 



to his disgust, given a staff" appointment. This he held until 
the end of the war. 

Leadership in war is not, perhaps, amongst the highest 
forms of human activity. Yet, whereas a champion of the 
prize-ring, even a world champion, need be no more than 
an exceptionally aggressive animal with adequate physique 
and superlative technical skill, a man to whom other men 
will unhesitatingly confide their lives in battle must have 
more to him than that. Thus, soon after I started out on 
the trail of Rommel, I naturally began to ask myself and 
others what sort of a person he was, apart from his exploits 
in action. 

From the beginning I ran up against a fundamental 
difference between the German attitude towards war and 
our own. For this I was not altogether unprepared. Soon 
after the first war, I happened to read in translation a book 
called Storm of Steel by one Ernst J linger and an incident ' 
in it had always stuck in my memory, partly because the 
scene of it was familiar to me. Just after the battle of 
Cambrai and the successful German counter-attack which 
followed it, the battalion to which Ernst Jiinger belonged 
was holding the line near Moeuvres, in the neighbourhood 
of the Hermes Canal. It was a fine, sunny, Sunday after- 
noon and the officers of his company, having lunched well, 
were smoking their cigars and drinking their brandy in a 
dug-out in the front line. " Why not let's go over and raid 
the English?" someone suggested. It was not a suggestion 
which one can imagine being made in a British company 
mess in those days. We were ready enough, if not anxious, 
to take part in a full-dress attack or an organised raid if we 
were ordered to do so. A good battalion prided itself on 
aggressive patrolling and on being in command of No Man's 
' Land at night. But, apart from that, most people were dis- 
posed to live and let live and to appreciate a quiet after- 
noon, with only the odd shell droning over to burst in the 



"OUR FRIEND ROM M EL" 



41 



back areas, as a Heaven-sent opportunity to read a book or 
write a letter. Had any one proposed an impromptu raid, 
" officers only," in such circumstances, he would have been 
suspected of punishing the brandy too freely and advised 
to lie down'. 

In this case the raid was carried out across the fifty or 
sixty yards which separated the two front lines. Because 
there was no warning in the way of artillery preparation and 
because the early afternoon was not the recognised time for 
raids, it was successful and the company officers returned 
ten minutes later in triumph, bringing with them two or 
three prisoners and leaving behind them two or three dead. 

The sequel is even more surprising. When the battalion 
was next out of the line, the officers who took part in the 
raid presented to the company commander, who had led it, 
a large silver cup, inscribed " To the victor of Moeuvres." 

The German professional soldier has always taken war 
with a seriousness with which only sport is treated by the 
British and sport and business by the Americans. It is just 
possible to imagine, though with difficulty, the rest of the 
side presenting a silver cup to someone who has won the 
University Rugby match in the last minute by a run from 
his own 25-yard line. Such presentations are not uncommon 
in the United States and extend even to the member of the 
sales-force who has brought in the most orders for Fuller 
brushes. But the cup for " the victor of Moeuvres/* solemnly 

■ 

produced with appropriate speeches and filled for a toast 
to the hero himself, if any one can see that ceremony occur- 
ring in a British battalion he must have soldiered in strange 
company. 

This story kept running through my head while I talked 
in Heidenheim to Hauptmann Hartmann, the first person I 
met who had served with Rommel in World War I. The 
Hartmann factory, which makes bandages by the million, 
had the rather bleak air of extreme impersonal efficiency 
and almost sterilised cleanliness that only Gennan and Swiss 



42 



ROMMEL 



factories seem to attain. Captain Hartmann's office was the 
typical office of the Herr Direktor, gloomy, with its dark 
panelling, its heavy furniture and its large photographs of 
former Hartmanns round the walls, not a room in which a 
file would dare to go adrift or a paper escape from its 
appropriate tray. Captain Hartmann was, however, by no 
means so sombre as his surroundings. A dark, good-looking, 
slightly-built German, he seemed much too young to be 
Rommel's contemporary (and mine). As he got up from 
his desk and came across the room to greet me, I saw that 
he had lost one leg at the hip. Was that in the first war? 
No, in this, in a glider accident, when he was attached to 
the Luftiuaffe. Gliding had been and still was his passion; 
the first day he came out of hospital after losing his leg he 
had gone up again. When he spoke of gliding, his face lit 
up. He was an attractive and sympathetic person with an 
easy manner. 

Then we got on to Rommel. Yes, they had been great 
friends, ever since the first war and until Rommel's death. 
They served together in the same battalion. He had been 
with him when he won his Pour le Merite. He described 
how Rommel swum the Piave on that December night with 
his six men and took Longarone. What a soldier ! " Where 
Rommel is, the front is," they used to say in the division. He 
was always attempting and bringing off things that no one 
else would have thought of trying. He seemed to have 
Fingers pitzengefu hi, a sort of sixth sense, an intuition in his 
fingers. (It was a word which I was to hear from every 
soldier I met who had known Rommel.) Hard, yes, though 
he never asked any one to do more than he would do him- 
self, or as much, and he was always trying to minimise losses 
by tactics. He was a tactical genius. Perhaps officers did not 
like him as much as the men because he always expected 
more of them and there were very few who could go his 
pace. But he was " the best of comrades." 

" Best of comrades " sounded more promising. After all, 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEt" 



43 



they had been young men together and battalions do not 
spend all their time in the line. Presumably even in Rumania 
they had their local Amiens to make for when they came 
out to rest, some equivalent to Godbert or the Cathedralc, 
where they could settle down in a corner to dine well and 
forget the war. Such evenings, when one had ridden in 
along the pave and booked a room and bathed, with bath- 
salts, and shopped and had a drink with other people from 
the division, are part of everybody's first war memories, the 
memories that make one reflect: "Oh, it wasn't too bad 
after all." (Was it not in the Cathedralc that "Kid" 
Kennedy, my Brigadier, eyeing the attractive young person 
who served us, paid her a compliment in terms which I had 
never heard before, have never heard since and have never 
forgotten? " By God, Desmond, isn't that lovely?" he said. 
" You could cat a poached egg off her stomach.") 

But when I tried tactfully to switch the conversation 
from the front line to relaxation at rest and to get some 
idea of Rommel as a human being as well as a soldier, I 
came up against a blank wall. Interests? No, Captain Hart- 
mann did not think he had any other interests. When he 
was not putting his genius for minor tactics into practice, 
he was working out new plans for embarrassing the enemy. 
Certainly he never wanted to " beat it up " in the back 
areas, nor, apparently, to visit them. Was there any change 
in him, I asked, when he returned to the battalion in 1916 
after bang married? No, he was just the same, just as 
tough, just as regardless of danger, just as preoccupied with 
winning the war on his particular sector. " He was one hun- 
dred per cent soldier," said Captain Hartmann, a slightly 
rapt expression coming over his handsome face, " he was 
body and soul in the war." 

A few days later I tried again, with Hauptmann Aldinger, 
who had, not only served in the same battalion with Hart- 
mann and Rommel during the first war but was Rommel's 
Ordonnam-offizier, a combination of personal assistant, 



44 



ROMMEL 



camp commandant; A.D.G. and private secretary, in France 
in 1940, in North Africa, and in Normandy in 1944, and 
was almost the last person to see him alive. Captain 
Aldinger is a precise little man who might very well be the 
chief accountant of some large business like Hartmann's 
bandage factory, in which case the auditors would have an 
easy job. But in private life he is a designer of gardens, with 
a considerable reputation in Stuttgart, and an architect of 
obvious good taste. Perhaps he would see what I was trying 
to get at and give me a line on Rommel. Here again I made 
no progress. Fingerspitzengefuhl came up once more and 
all the military virtues. A hard man, too hard for many 
people, particularly officers. " But if Rommel was on your 
flank you knew you had nothing to worry about on one side 
at any rate. ... In those days he believed that every order 
must be exacdy carried out. . . . He had more trust in the 
Higher Command and in the Staff in the first war than he 
had in the second. . . ." Other interests? Well, he liked a 
day's shooting or fishing when he could get it. Reading? 
Military works mostly. Music or the theatre ? No. Food and 
wine? They meant nothing to him. Was he then entirely 
serious ? Oh, no, he liked to joke with the troops and to talk 
in the Swabian dialect to people from his part of the 
country. 

It seemed that I was on the trail of that rare and rather 
colourless creature, the specialist with the single-track mind. 
The young Montgomery, as he appears in Alan Moore- 
head's biography, was the nearest parallel to this regular 
officer with no interests outside his profession. But at least 
Montgomery had been a notable athlete at St, Paul's, the 
best-known boy in the school. At Sandhurst he had so 
annoyed his instructors that he had been told that he was 
quite useless and would get nowhere in the Army. Rommel 
had not even that negative distinction. 

Life in any army is narrow and limited and nowhere 
more so than in the old German anny, with its class- 



"OUR FRIEND ROMMEL*' 



45 



consciousness and rigid traditions. Thus the outsider, or the 
man coming into it temporarily from a different world, is 
inclined to think that the professional who, even in war- 
time thinks of nothing but soldiering, must necessarily be 
narrow and limited also. When General Speidel, Rommel's 
extremely acute and intelligent Chief of Staff in Normandy, 
remarked to me that he did not suppose that Rommel had 
ever read a book in his life that had not to do with war, it 
was in this mood that I asked whether he was not, then, 
" un peu bete/' General Speidel stared at me in astonish- 
ment. " Stupid? Good God, no I" he said. " That's the last 
thing he was*" 

Eventually I sorted out Rommel to my own satisfaction 
and related him to my previous experience. But I propose 
to let the reader form his own impressions and leave mine 
until later. 



Chapter Three 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 

The taste of defeat is always bitter. But the collapse of 
Germany in 1918 surprised and shook the German profes- 
sional soldier much more than the capitulation of May, 
1945, which all but the fanatics of the S.S. had long seen to 
be inevitable. Ludendorff, indeed, knew that the great 
offensive of March was his final throw. But when the tide 
of success was checked and began to turn the other way in 
the summer, the old type of German regimental officer as 
yet had no thought of surrender. The German armies still 
stood on* foreign soil; since the Russian advances in 1914 no 
enemy had yet set foot in Germany except as a prisoner. 
The line might have to be shortened, as after the battles of 
the Somme. The whole of Northern France and Belgium 
might have to be given up; a compromise peace might have 
to be made which would leave Germany no better off in the 
West than she was on August 4, 1914. But, outside the 
General Staff and the Army Commanders, few realised until 
the last fortnight that there was now no choice between 
capitulation and complete disaster. Even the Allies were 
preparing to face another winter of trench warfare and 
planning their ultimate offensives for the spring of 1919. 

In fact, the German armies were squarely beaten in the 
field and the blockade had broken the will-to-resist of the 
German people at home. Defeat might have been delayed; 
it could not have been averted. 

Nevertheless, since we all like to attribute our failures to 
anything except our own shortcomings, it was natural' 
enough that the legend of the " stab in the back " should 

46 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



47 



have been seized upon and swallowed by the returned sol- 
diers. The Allies, with a strangely faulty appreciation of 
German psychology, helped to promote and perpetuate it 
by permitting them to march back armed across the Rhine 
bridges, their bands and colour-parties leading. 

They then proceeded to give the Germans a solid, per- 
manent and perfectly legitimate grievance by completely 
ignoring the conditions under which the armistice had been 
arranged. These, as John Maynard Keynes pointed out at 
the time, were plain and unequivocal. The Allies had 
declared their willingness to make peace with Germany on 
the basis of President Wilson's Fourteen Points, as amplified 
in his addresses to Congress, and the object of the Peace 
Conference was to ** discuss the details of their application." 
In fact, they were never discussed and the peace was dic- 
tated without the Germans being heard. Moreover, of the 
Fourteen Points, Four Principles and Five Particulars, 
"only four,'* says Mr. Harold Nicolson in Peacemaking, 
" can with any accuracy be said to have been incorporated 
in the treaties of peace." The result was that, although the 
Treaty of Versailles was certainly not as severe as the sort 
of peace which the Gennans themselves would have devised, 
no German felt himself bound by it. In particular, no 
German was prepared to accept the cession of a large slice 
6f West Prussia to Poland, the loss of the city of Danzig and 
the subjection of some two million Germans permanently 
to Folish rule. It is against this background that the sub- 
sequent behaviour of every German officer has to be 
regarded. The officer class considered that it had been 
tricked into surrender and it was of no use to argue that, had 
it continued to fight into 1919, it would have had to accept 
any terms, however outrageous, which the Allies might have 
decided to impose. 

In 1945 we saw the Germans pulverised and disintegrated 
like the rubble of their ruined cities, too apathetic in their 
sullen misery even to hate. In 1918 they still had the spirit 



48 



ROMMEL 



to turn upon each other, since the day for turning upon 
their conquerors was as yet far distant. (That it would dawn, 
they had no doubt. u Clear out of here and we will hunt 
the French home with sticks/' said a German industrialist 
to me in Diisseldorf in 1919 — and that was four years before 
the French occupation of the Ruhr.) At the time we were 
too busy licking our wounds, celebrating our victory, spend- 
ing our war gratuities and enjoying the beginnings of the 
short-lived post-war boom to know or care much about what 
was happening in Germany. Yet the sight of returning 
officers being seized upon in the streets or dragged from 
trains, stripped of their rank badges and, often, butchered 
was one of the spectacles which impressed the Germans and 
did much to assure Hitler a welcome in due course. It did 
much to explain the rise of the Free Corps, its brutalities 
and the emergence of the Goering, Roehm, Sepp Dietrich 
type. It also explained why the Socialist Minister of 
Defence, the ex-basket-maker, Herr Noske, who was also 
an ex-N.C.O., turned to the officer class as the only Germans 
now capable of respecting and restoring order. 

There was, however, another side to all this. Through 
the clouds of economic chaos and confusion of spirit arising 
from defeat, occupation and civil war, it is hard for any 
one who was not in Germany at the time to picture German 
middle-class families living their normal lives, the husbands 
going down to their bleakly efficient factories and offices, the 
wives superintending the unceasing scrubbing and polishing, 
hunting their unfortunate maidservants and preoccupied 
mainly with the price of food and the difficulties of pro- 
curing it. It is harder still to think of a German regular 
officer relapsing at once into peace-time soldiering, as 
though he had merely been away on some abnormally 
lengthy manoeuvres. 

Yet that, or almost that, is what happened to Captain 
Erwin Rommel. On December 21st, 1918, he was re-posted 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



49 



to his original regiment, the 124th Infantry at Weingarten, 
which he had joined in 1910 when he joined the army. On 
the whole he saw very little of the ** troubles." He had to 
travel through revolutionary Germany in the same month 
to retrieve his wife from Danzig, where she was seriously ill 
in her grandmother's house. He was questioned, mildly 
insulted, since he travelled in uniform, and once nearly 
arrested, but he brought her safely back to his mother'* 
lodging in Weingartcn. (The two women were always the 
best of friends.) In the summer of 1919 he went for a time 
to command an internal security company in Friedrichs- 
hafen where he had his first experience of handling Germans' 
who were not prepared to obey orders. He was given & 
draft of " red " naval ratings to lick into shape as soldiers. 
They were a little wild at first, booed Rommel because he 
wore his Pour le Merite, demanded to be allowed to appoint 
a commissar, refused to do the goose-step and held a revolu- 
tionary meeting. Rommel attended it, stood on a desk and 
announced that he proposed to command soldiers, not 
criminals. Next day fie marched them behind a band to the 
parade-ground. When they refused to drill, he got on his 
horse and left them. They followed him back to barracks 
meekly enough and in a few days were so tame that Inspec- 
tor Hahn, the head of the police at Stuttgart, asked Rommel 
to select some of them for enlistment in the police, for which 
they would be paid a special bonus on joining. He also 
invited Rommel to join with them, which perhaps explains 
the legend : that he was once a policeman. Rommel said that 
he was going back to his regiment. Most of the men were 
ready to sacrifice their bonus and go with him. Except 
when they had to provide a guard over a blackmarket 
Schnapps factory, perhaps an unfair test of their new-found 
discipline, he had no further trouble with them. Later he 
took his company to the Ruhr for internal security duties but 
had no very exciting experiences there. By January lst^ 



50 



ROMMEL 



f 



1921 , after a tour of duty at Schwabischgemund, he was in 
Stuttgart, commanding a company in the 13th Infantry 
Regiment, the 1 24th having disappeared in the reduction — 
or renumbering — of the German Army. There he was to 
remain as a captain for nearly nine years. 

How was it that Rommel could thus resume his career 
and was not driven into joining the Free Corps, that refuge 
of so many unemployed, disgruntled and truculent ex- 
regular officers, who knew no other trade but war and did 
not much care against whom they fought? It was because, 
in spite of the debacle of November, 1918, and the civil war 
which followed it, the German army never ceased to exist, 
nor was the intention of expanding it at the earliest possible 
opportunity ever for a moment abandoned. Article 160 of 
the Versailles Treaty laid down that " by a date which must 
not be later than March 31, 1920, the German Army must 
not comprise more than seven divisions of infantry and three 
divisions of cavalry. After that date the total number of 
effectives . . . must not exceed 100,000 men, including 
officers and establishment of depots. . . . 7'he total effective 
strength of officers . . . must not exceed 4000." 

The intention was to allow Germany a sufficient force for 
the maintenance of internal order. The effect was to pro- 
vide the Commander-in-Chief, General Hans von Seeckt, 
"the man who made the next war," with a hard core of 
professionals round which he could lay the foundations of 
the army of the future. They were the reinforcement, the 
steel frame, on to which the concrete of conscripts could 
quickly be poured, if and when it became possible to rein- 
troduce conscription, as was done by Hitler in March, 1 935. 

For such employment Rommel, with his Pour le Merite 
and his reputation as a regimental officer, was a " natural." 
Though he did not know General von Seeckt personally and, 
indeed, never met him except once or twice on parade, he 
was exactly the type of man that von Seeckt wanted, a 



■ I 

BETWEEN TWO WARS 51 

serious-minded young soldier (he was still four days short 
of twenty-seven at the armistice), and not of the swash- 
buckling sort which may be effective in war but does not 
take kindly either to discipline or to the dull grind of train- 
ing in peace. 

For Rommel himself there was really no other choice, 
even if he had wished for one. The Army was his career 
and, since he was married and had little or no private 
means, he was lucky to be able to pursue it. Moreover, he 
did not find it dull. He was a thinking soldier and liked to 
fight his battles over again, not in any spirit of nostalgia for 
war, but to draw from them the correct tactical lessons. He 
also enjoyed drill and training, as did Montgomery. 

That he was perfectiy well acquainted with the details 
and purpose of the vast conspiracy which General von 
Secckt set on foot to enlarge and conceal the strength of the 
army, there is not the slightest reason to doubt. Every one 
of the four thousand selected officers must have known that 
his mission was not merely the maintenance of internal 
security but the creation and training of a new and more 
formidable force out of the debris of the old. They must all 
have taken a great deal of pleasure, as we should have done 
in their place, in the extraordinary ingenuity and persistence 
with which the object was pursued. I remember reading, in 
the library of die Rand Club in Johannesburg, the article in 
the Quarterly Review for October, 1924, in which 
Br^adier-General J. H. Morgan, a member of the Disarma- 
ment Commission, described the innumerable subterfuges 
by which its efforts were being defeated and the whole 
machinery of mobilisation kept as nearly as possible intact 
under cover of Demobilisation, Welfare, Pensions Centres 
and so on. It was as exciting as an Agatha Christie novel 
and a good deal more alarming. It was a pity that it did not 
have as large a circulation. For those who were taking an 
active part in the deception it must have been as thrilling a 



52 



ROMMEL 



game as it was possible to play. " If I were a German and a 
patriotic one," said Morgan himself, " 1 should bow my 
head before General von Seeckt as * the greatest Roman of 
them all* Scharnhorst, who turned the disarmament clauses 
of the Treaty of Tilsit to the discomfiture of Napoleon (and 
incidentally enabled us to win the battle of Waterloo), was 
a small man in comparison, for the corresponding clauses 
of the Treaty of Versailles were drawn with much more 
care." Regimental soldiering in Germany in the years im- 
mediately following the 1914-18 war was not so barren and 
unprofitable an occupation for a German officer as might 
have been supposed. 

To be stationed in Stuttgart, an agreeable city in his own 
part of the country, where his family lived, was another 
piece of luck for Rommel. Thus, although he had to wait 
until 1933 for his promotion to major, he was far from 
unhappy. In 1927 he went on leave with his wife to Italy 
and revisited the scene of his exploits at Longarone, where 
Frau Rommel discovered in the local cemetery the graves 
of the Molino family, from which her own family of Mollin 
was reputed to be descended. (Their exploration of the 
battlefield was cut short because the Italians of Longarone 
resented an obvious German officer prowling about a spot 
which seemed to have agreeable associations for him.) 

On another leave, he and Frau Rommel took canoes 
down the Rhine to Lake Constance. Both expert skiers^ 
mountaineers and swimmers, both good riders, fond of 
horses and dogs and much preferring country to town life, 
they got out of Stuttgart whenever they could. They both 
liked to dance, indeed, but neither was much interested in 
the theatre or the cinema nor did they care for " parties." 

At home, Rommel played the violin in an amateurish 
fashion but was otherwise easy to live with. He drank very 
little* never more than a couple of glasses of wine, did not 
smoke and was not particular about his food. He was extra* 
ordinarily handy about the house, could make or mend any- 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



53 



thing and, when he bought a motor-cycle, started by taking 
it entirely to pieces and putting it together again, without, 
as he said with satisfaction, a nut or a screw left over. 

While at Stuttgart, Rommel formed, with Hartmann and 
Aldinger, an Old Comrades Association of the Wiirttemberg 
battalion to which they had all belonged. In it there was no 
distinction of rank. This was one of Rommel's main interests 
and he spent much of his spare time getting in touch by 
personal letters with all who had served in the battalion and 
trying to help those who were having a hard time in post- 
war Germany. An annual meeting and parade was organised 
and in 1935, when Rommel was a Lieut-Colonel command- 
ing a battalion at Goslar, he returned to Stuttgart for it. 
General von Sodcn came to take the salute and invited 
Rommel to join him at the saiuting-base. It was typical of 
Rommel that he said that he would prefer to march past 
with his old company. 

Thus the years passed pleasantly and uneventfully enough 
for the Rommels, the main incident being the birth of their 
only child, Manfred, on Christmas Eve, 1928, after twelve 
years of marriage. 

Except for the scars of his wounds, war, says his widow, 
seined to have left no trace upon Rommel. When he re- 
ferred to it, which he seldom did at home, it was as a stupid 
and brutal business, which no sane man would wish to see 
repeated. But he did not dream at nights, nor did he appear 
toT&t, as did so many young soldiers of all armies after 
1918, either that those four years were some strange and 
bloody hallucination or, conversely, that they alone were 
real. He remained a serious-minded but jolly and good- 
tempered man of simple tastes, who enjojed a quiet life and, 
for the rest, was wrapped up in his profession. That his 
profession was preparation for war is a seeming contradic- 
tion which professional soldiers will more readily resolve 
than civilians. 

On October 1st, 1929, Rommel was posted as an ins true- 



54 



ROMMEL 



tor to the Infantry School at Dresden where he remained for 
exactly four years. His lectures at the school resulted in the 
publication of his hook, Infanterie Greift An (" Infantry 
Attacks"), based on personal experiences in Belgium, the 
Argonne, the Vosges, the Carpathians and Italy during the 
war. It is an excellent little manual of infantry tactics, in 
which minor operations are vividly described with good 
sketch-maps and the tactical lessons clearly drawn. It be- 
came a textbook in the Swiss Army, whose officers presented 
^Rommel with a gold watch, suitably inscribed. But it also 
caught the attention of another reader nearer home, with 
far-reaching elTects upon his fortunes. 

On October 10th, 1933, Rommel, now a major, was given 
command of the 3rd Battalion of Infantry Regiment 17, a 
Jaeger or mountain battalion, in which all ranks were, or 
were supposed to be, expert skiers. The battalion was at 
Goslar, there was good snow near-by and, on the day after 
he took over, the officers suggested that they should all go 
out together. No doubt they wished to sec whether their 
middle-aged CO. was up to commanding a battalion of 
athletes. There was no ski-lift and they toiled up to the 
highest point. Here they were about to settle down for a 
drink, a smoke and a rest when Rommel remarked : " I 
think, gentlemen, that we should be starting down." The 
descent was made at speed. At the bottom it was acknow- 
ledged that the CO. could ski. "That was very nice, 
gentlemen," said Rommel, " let's try it again." This was 
regarded as a sporting effort. But there was very little 
enthusiasm when he proposed yet a third ascent. By the 
time they reached the foot of the slope for the third time 
everyone had had rather more than enough — except Rom- 
mel* who observed that the slalom slopes looked good and 
that they might spend another half-hour or so there. In a 
British battalion one can often notice officers sliding unob- 
trusively out of the anteroom when it is a question of making 
tip a four at bridge with the colonel. In the Jaeger battalion. 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



55 



I was told, volunteers for ski-ing expeditions with the C.( >. 
had to be detailed. 

■ 

Until Hider became Chancellor on January 31st, 1933, 
RommeJ had taken litde interest in politics. To remain aloof 
from the sordid worlds of politics and commerce had always 
been the tradition of the German officer class. In the years 
immediately following the armistice, General von Seeckt set 
out deliberately to foster it, at the same time that he set out 
to break down the traditional barriers between officers and 
men. His purpose was to create a New Model army, but he 
had no intention of handing it over to the politicians of the 
Weimar Republic. It would be for the General Staff to 
decide when the time had come to use it. Meanwhile its 
allegiance must be only to its own cloth. Thus his orders 
prohibiting the anny from taking any part in politics and 
even from voting, whilst doubtless reassuring to the Allies, 
were, in fact, part of a long-range plan which would cer- 
tainly have alarmed them had they been fully aware of it. 

No prohibition was necessary in Rommel's case. He had 
been brought up in a non-political society in a small German 
provincial town ; he had been educated as a soldier ; he had 
left for the wars when not yet twenty-three. He had been 
only too glad, when he returned, to escape from the dissen- 
sions of post-war Germany to the one world in which he felt 
at home. " Coffee-housing " was not among his amusements, 
he read little and he was not in the least politically minded. 
The only comment which Frau Rommel remembers him 
making on the Nazis in the early days was that they 
" seemed to be a set of scallywags " and that it was a pity 
that Hitler surrounded himself with such people. For, like 
ninety per cent of Germans who had no direct contact with 
Hider or his movement, he regarded him as an idealist, a 
patriot with some sound ideas who might pull Germany 
together and save her from Communism. This may seem a 
naive estimate; it was not more naive than that of many 



56 



ROMMEL 



people in England who saw him only as a ridiculous little 
man with a silly moustache. Both views were founded in 
wishful thinking. But the Germans, having had a bellyful 
of defeat and a good taste of Communism, at least had some 
excuse for believing what they wished to believe. Those 
who refused to see any danger in that absurd figure, until it 
was already too late, would not believe what they did not 
wish to believe, merely because the alternative was too un- 
pleasant to accept. 

Moreover, Rommel, though he was a regular officer, was 
no hochwohlgcborev , snobbish Prussian. The idea that an 
Austrian corporal might prove the salvation of Germany 
was not as fantastic to him as it was to many senior officers 
of the Reichsivehr : he liked corporals. What he did not 
like were the Brownshirt bullies of the type of Rochm. He 
had never met Rochm" or anv of his associates but lie sus- 
pected, as did most of the army, that they were trying to 
set up a rival organisation. Moreover, he had seen the 
Brownshirts about and their hysteria and lack of discipline 
disgusted him. He was not, therefore, horrified when he 
heard that Roehin and the rest had been liquidated on the 
Night of the Long Knives, June 30th, 1934. He believed 
the story that they had been plotting to overthrow Hitler 
and seize power for themselves and thought that they had 
got their deserts. Frau Rommel and others have also assured 
me that the whole affair caused less stir, at least in provin- 
cial Germany, than it did abroad and that details of the 
killings only gradually leaked out. 

Rommel's first encounter with National Socialism in 
operation certainly does not suggest that he had any great 
sympathy with Nazis. He was commanding his Jaeger 
battalion at Goslar in 1935 when Goslar was chosen as the 
scene of a thanksgiving ceremony, to be attended by the 
Fiihrer in person. Everything was to be laid on in style, with 
bands and banners and peasants from the surrounding dis- 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



57 



tricts in their national costumes. Naturally, the battalion 
would parade. When the details of the parade were being 
worked out, Rommel was told by a representative of the S.S. 
that in front of his troops would be a single file of S.S, men, 
who would be responsible for Hitler's safety. To this he 
replied that in that case the battalion would not turn out. 
He was asked to go and see Himinlcr and Goebbels at the 
local hotel. They were both exceedingly civil to him and 
invited him to stay for luncheon. When he explained that 
he considered die proposed arrangements an insult to him- 
self and his battalion, they agreed that he was quite right. 
It was just the mistake of an over-careful subordinate. Of 
course the orders would be cancelled at once. Rommel 
returned home, having carried his point, to report to his 
wife that he did not much like the look of Himmler but that 
Dr. Goebbels was really a very agreeable and interesting 
man. That impression remained. Whenever they met in 
later years, which was not often, Goebbels went out of his 
way to be pleasant and to turn on the charm which he 
undoubtedly had. Rommel was worth winning over; if that 
were impossible, he was worth keeping sweet. With Hitler, 
Rommel's first meeting was purely formal. He saluted; he 
was introduced; he shook hands; his Pour le Merite was 
observed; he was congratulated on the turn-out of his 
battalion. 

On October 15th, 1935, Rommel, now a Licut.-Colonel, 
posted as an instructor to the War Academy at Pots- 
dam. It was the first time diat he had been near the centre 
of things. Earlier on he had had the chance of taking his 
Staff College examinations and joining the elect. But he 
was advised that, with his record and his Pour le Merite, he 
stood a better chance of promotion and preferment if he 
remained with troops. Since he was by temperament a regi- 
mental officer, the advice tallied with his own inclination. 
In Potsdam he and his wife and small son lived quietly near 



58 



ROMMEL 



the Academy, mixed very little in Berlin society and had no 
friends or even acquaintances amongst the top Nazis. Nor 
did they even meet socially the senior officers of the 
Wehrmacht. As in Stuttgart, their friends were mainly 
regular officers and their wives of about their own seniority. 

Naturally, however, they knew more of what was going 
on in high places than they had ever known before. They 
knew, for example, of the growing rivalry between the Nazis 
and the General Staff. Relying on the fact that Hitler, on 
the death of Hindenburg, had become Supreme Comman- 
der of all the German armed forces and that the officer corps 
had taken the oath of allegiance to him, the party bosses 
were bent upon making good Nazis of them and incor- 
porating the Wehrmacht in the "new order." They saw 
clearly enough that an independent organisation, with tradi- 
tions rooted in the past, commanding the instinctive loyalty 
of all Germans except the very young, might one day turn 
upon them and take over. Hitler, who saw it much more 
clearly, played off the two sides against each other with 
supreme cunning. 

For its part, the Army, preoccupied though it was from 
March, 1935, with its enormous expansion and grateful to 
Hitler for giving it the opportunity to expand beyond its 
wildest dreams, had no thought of subordinating itself to his 
henchmen. A very few officers of the highest character and • 
ability, like Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, the Chief of 
Staff, made no distinction between the Fuhrer and his fol- 
lowers and, on moral grounds, regarded both National 
Socialism and its creator as a national calamity. Beck, 
though he resigned only in 1 938, in protest against the pro* 
posat to invade Czechoslovakia, had no illusions from the 
first. Others, like Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch, the 
Commander-in-Chief, also disliked and despised both the 
Nazis and their leader, but mainly, it would seem, because 
they threatened the supremacy of the Army and because 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



59 



they were the kind of people with whom a German officer 
really could not associate. Others, again, the Keitels and 
Jodls, were prepared to sacrifice their professional integrity 
for promotion, though even they might have hesitated if 
they had known that the day would soon come when Hitler 
would treat them as uniformed office-boys. 
The attitude of the bulk of the General Staff has been 

■ 

described by General Walter Warlimont : " Gradually the 
General Staff officer found it necessary to acquire some sort 
of a stabilising influence and he began to look to Hitler, in 
contrast to his followers, as the new hope for Germany. In 
addition to the rearmament programme, the peaceful re- 
occupation of the Rhineland enhanced Hitler's personal 
reputation within the officer corps, since this move corres- 
ponded to the fundamental policy of the Army." This was 
out of the frying-pan into the fire, had they but known it. 
But it did not seem so stupid then as it sounds now. Was 
not Hitler some sort of a soldier himself, intensely proud of 
his service in the war? Had he not backed them against the 
ambitions of Roehm? Did he not know that it v/as the 
Army and the Army alone which had kept the military 
flame alive during the long years of subjection? His Nazi 
hooligans had helped him to power but could any one sup- 
pose that he really preferred them to German officers of the 
old school? Was he not biding his time until he could afford 
to get rid of them and rely upon the real protectors of 
Germany? 

Such w the view of the General Staff. It percolated 
down to regimental officers and Rommel, for one, accepted 
it, in so far as he thought about such matters at all. There 
was a clear differentiation in his mind between the Fuhrer 
and his followers. Until his own bitter experiences opened 
his eyes, and that was not until after £1 Alamein, he admired 
and respected Hitler but had no use for Nazis. 

Thus it was with no great enthusiasm that he heard, in 



60 



ROMMEL 



1935, that the Army proposed to take over the S.A. and that 
he was to be given command of them. He admitted that he 
would have enjoyed " smartening them up " but he realised 
that the job would be neither easy nor agreeable. The 
attempt failed. It is unlikely that there was ever any chance 
of it succeeding. 

Rommel, however, was not to escape contact with the 
Nazis. While still an instructor at the War Academy he was 
given a special assignment. He was to be attached to the 
Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) with the object of improving 
their discipline. This suited him. He was always fond of 
boys and at his best with them. Most boys, with their 
natural instinct for hero-worship, adored him. He was a 
famous soldier who would stand no nonsense but he talked 
to them as equals. Here the material was, on the whole, 
good; physically it was magnificent. 

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened 
to the Hitler Youth had Rommel been given a free hand. 
They would have been tough and brave, as, indeed, most 
of them were. In the last days of defeat they would have 
fought and died gamely, as many of them did, under S.S. 
Brigadefuhrer Kurt Meyer of the 12th S.S. Panzer (Hitler 
Jugend) Division, at Caen. They might have sprung at our 
tanks like wolves until as a British tank commander said, 
" We were forced to kill them against our will." They would 
not, it is safe to say, have been the intolerant and fanatical 
young bullies they became. Certainly they would hot have 
killed prisoners-of-war, as they did under Kurt Meyer's 
orders. Nor would the survivors now form that hard core 
of sullen, resentful and dangerous young Germans whom no 
man in his senses can suppose it possible to convert to our 
ideas. The Afrika Korps was formed of much the same 
material, the boys who served in it were tough and brave 
and confident. They, too, had a good conceit of themselves. 
But one has only to meet the survivors of -the Afrika Korps 
and of the S.S. to see the difference. 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



61 



Rommel never had a chance with them, for he quickly 
ran up against their leader, Baldur von Schirach. The latter, 
young, handsome, a good speaker, more cultured than most 
of the Nazis, for he was the son of the Director of the 
Weimar Theatre and a poet of sorts, has been represented 
as one of the few idealists of the Party. On the other hand 
he struck von Hassell as no more than " a bombastic Party 
ruffian . . . whose countenance reflects baseness." What is 
certain is that he was of the type to appeal to emotional 
German youth and that he was slavishly and apparently 
genuinely devoted to the Fiihrer, to whom he used to send 
adulatory poems. Not unnaturally he resented the importa- 
tion of a regular officer who was not even a member of the 
Party. Rommel and he fell out, however, on ah issue which 
would have been surprising to any one who did not know of 
Rommel's descent from schoolmasters. So far from wanting 
to militarise the Hitler Youth, he objected that von Schirach 
was laying too much stress on sport and military training 
and not paying enough attention to education and the deve- 
lopment of character. He strongly objected, he said, to 
small boy's of thirteen being made into " litde Napoleons " 
and was not at all encouraging to a lad of eighteen who 
arrived in uniform and a large Mercedes and naively con- 
fided in him that he " felt like a commanding general." The 
Hitler Youth were already contemptuous of schools and 
schoolmasters and refused to be treated as schoolboys. In 
an 1 attempt to put this right, Rommel arranged a meeting 
between Baldur von Schirach and Dr. Rust, the Minister of 
Education. But von Schirach was arrogant and Rust was 
a fool and nothing came of it. Rommel then told von 
Schirach that, if he was determined to train the boys as 
soldiers, he had better first go and learn to be a soldier him- 
self. Von Schirach, though he eventually went, objected 
that he would lose all his influence with his Hitler Youth if 

.,■*.« 

he w<ere se,en obeying the orders of a drill-sergeant ! 

Meanwhile, as soon as 4ie felt able to do so, he set about 



62 



ROMMEL 



getting rid of Rommel. Since he was one of Hitler's inti- 
mates it was not too difficult to represent that Rommel was 
not quite a good enough Nazi to be entrusted with the train- 
ing of the Hitler Youth. Rommel was only attached from 
the stafF of the War Academy and no open dispute between 
the Party and the Army arose. Rommel returned to Potsdam 
and was rather pointedly not given the golden badge of the 
Hitler Jugend. 

Having finished his three years' tour of duty at Potsdam 
on November 9th, 1938, he was appointed next day to com- 
mand the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt. He had been 
promoted the previous year and had thus risen from captain 
to full colonel in nineteen years- — a rapid enough rise in 
peacetime but not sensational in view of his record and the 
enormous expansion of the Wehrmacht since 1935. Such as 
it was, no one could say that it was due to influence in the 
higher command of the Army, still less to any favours from 
the Nazis. 

What his record of service does not show is that, before 
leaving Potsdam, he had been seconded from the War 
Academy to a temporary job which changed I us whole 
future — for better and for worse. An officer was wanted to 
command the FuhrerhegU'ithattailon, the battalion respon- 
sible for Hitler's personal safety, during the march' into the. 
Sudetenland in October, 1938. Infanterie Crfift An had 
been published in 1937. Hitler had read and admired it 
He made the appointment to his escort himself and chose 
the author. For the first time Rommel was brought to close 
quarters with the man who was to make him a Field- 
Marshal and to murder him. 

« 

So maity buckets have been dropped into the dark well of 
Hitler's character, so much is known about his treachery, 
his cruelty, his cunning, his bloodthirstiness, his strange 
obsessions, his megalomania, that only one mystery now 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



63 



remains : how did he manage to impose so long, not upon 
the mass of the German people (that is understandable, for 
to them he was a Voice and a Vision), but upon some quite 
decent and intelligent men who were in daily contact with 
him? 

Rommel was no trained psychologist, nor was he ever 
Hitler's intimate. But he was shrewd, a keen observer and a 
good judge of normal men. At this period he had an oppor- 
tunity of studying the Fiihrcr under stress. The impressions 
he formed at the time may add little to our knowledge. But 
they were precise and he made a note of them which his son 
has preserved. There was no doubt, he said, that Hitler had 
a magnetic, perhaps an hypnotic power, derived from his 
evident belief that he was inspired by God or Vorsehung 
(the force which orders all things on earth), to lead the Ger- 
man people " up to the sun." (Rommel even then suspected 
that, if he could not lead them to victory, he would be 
equally prepared to lead them to destruction, provided only 
that the end was dramatic.) 

This power was displayed in his handling of a conference. 
At the start Hitler would have an almost vacant look and 
appear to be fumbling, like a man idly turning over the 
pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. Suddenly his sixth sense (Rom- 
mel's own Fingers pitzengefuhl) would come into play and 
he would listen intently. Then " out of the depths of him- 
self," he would produce an answer which, for the moment 
at least, would entirely satisfy all those to whom he was 
speaking. "At such moments he would speak like a 
prophet." Rommel realised that " he always acted by in- 
tuition, never by reason." But Hitler had, he said, an extra- 
ordinary gift of grasping the essential points in a discussion 
and distilling a solution from them. 

This same intuition enabled him to sense the thoughts of 
any one to whom he was speaking and, when he chose, to 
say what he knew would please him. His flattery was adroit 



64 



ROMMEL 



Thus, when he had already made up his own mind on a 
course, he would consult someone who was certain to hold 
the same views as himself and appear to be convinced by his 
arguments, even a little unwillingly. When the decision 
was taken, his consultant, already flattered by being asked 
his opinion by the Fuhrcr, would be doubly flattered at the 
thought that he had influenced it. (It would be interesting 
to know whether Hitler had read Mr. Dale Carnegie, as 
Mr. Dale Carnegie presumably read Mein Kampf) 

The next thing that struck Rommel was Hitler's truly 
remarkable memory. Like General Smuts, he knew practi- 
cally by heart any book which he had ever read and, as with 
General Smuts, whole pages and chapters were photo- 
graphed exactly upon his mind. His grasp of statistics was 
particularly strong; he could reel off figures of troop dis- 
positions, enemy tanks destroyed, reserves of petrol and 
ammunition, etc., in a manner which impressed even the 
highly-trained products of the General Staff. 

Baron von Esebeck, the German war correspondent, told 
me a story, which he had at first hand, to show that Hitler 

* 

never lost this faculty nor the intuition which had already 
led the German armies to disaster. In the early spring of 
1945 Hitler visited an Army Headquarters on the Eastern 
Front. " When do you expect the next Russian attack?" he 
asked the Army Commander. The Army Commander gave 
a date and his reasons. "No," said Hitler, "it will be a 
week later," which it was. Then he asked, " How many 
rounds per gun have you for your medium artillery?" The 
Army Commander gave a figure. " No," said Hitler, " I 
sent you more than that : you ought to have so-and-so. Ring 
up and ask the general commanding your artillery." Hitler 
was right and the Army Commander was wrong. This is an . 
old trick, well known to visiting Royalty and inspecting 
generals, but Hitler was a master of it and needed no 
prompting. 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



65 



Hitler's last quality, which greatly impressed Rommel, 
who always valued it very highly, was, surprisingly enough, 
his physical courage. When the Germans were about to 
enter Prague on March J 3th, 1 939, Rommel was again in 
command of the escort battalion. " What would you do if 
you were in my place, Colonel?" the Ftihrer asked him. 
RommePs answer was in character. " I should get into an 
open car," he said, " and drive through the streets to the 
Hradschin without an escort." With the Czechs in the mood 
they were in, this was advice which few men, personally res- 
ponsible for Hitler's safety, would have offered. It was also 
advice which few men in Hitler's position would have taken. 
But he took it and the old news-reels show them acting upon 
Rommel's suggestion. 

Of all their stations, Wiener Neustadt, in the mountains 
south-west of Vienna, gave the Rommcls their happiest 
memories of the time between the wars. Rommel had an 
independent command. Free from any interference by 
higher authority, he was doing his favourite job, the train- 
ing of budding officers in minor tactics and soldierly con- 
duct. With his wife and young son he lived in a charming 
bungalow surrounded by a large garden. There were end- 
less excursions to be made in a beautiful countryside, end- 
less opportunities for the practice of his latest hobby, photo- 
graphy, in which, as may be imagined, he was technically 
highly competent but also showed a talent for selection and 
composition. The rest of the staff were congenial but the 
Rommcls were always content with a domestic life and 
sufficient to themselves. The summer days slipped pleasantly 
away. As for the shadow of war, Rommel was not alone 
amongst Germans in thinking, after Munich and even after 
Prague, that Hitler would "get away with it somehow." 
General Thomas, head of the economic branch of the Ger- 
man High Command has, since the war, remarked that 
" every intelligent German came to the conclusion that the 
R. c 



66 



ROMMEL 



Western Powers saw in Germany a bulwark against Bol- 
shevism and welcomed German rearmament," which shows 
to what misconceptions appeasement may lead. Even as 
late as August 23rd, 1939, when Rommel was promoted 
Major-General and posted to the staff of the Ftthrer's head- 
quarters, to be responsible again for Hitler's safety, he was 
not sure that he was off once more to the wars. An eleventh- 
hour settlement would not have surprised him half as much 
as did the alliance with Russia, signed on the same day. 

That alliance made war inevitable and, at 4.40 a.m. on 
September 1st, the German air attack upon Poland was 
launched. Lloyd George had been proved right when, in his 
memorandum to the Peace Conference on March 25th, 
1919, he said: "The proposal of the Polish Commission 
that we should place two million Germans under the control 
of a people of a different race, which has never proved its 
capacity for stable self-government throughout its history, 
must, in my judgment, lead sooner or later to a new war in 
the east of Europe. . . 

It would be idle to pretend that Rommel had any qualms 
of conscience over the invasion of Poland. Just as he had 
welcomed rearmament, whether secret or open, because he 
felt that Germany could expect little consideration from her 
conquerors until she was strong enough to speak with them 
on equal terms, so he had always believed that the Polish 
Corridor must disappear and Danzig be restored to the 
Reich, by amicable arrangement if possible but by force of 
arms if necessary. The fact that his wife's family lived in 
West Prussia, that it was in Danzig that he had met her, that 
it was from the War Academy at Danzig that he was first 
commissioned, may have given him a direct personal interest 
in the matter, but his opinion was shared by the vast 
majority of Germans. Moreover, it is fair to remember that 
in this case, as in the case of the Sudetenland and Czecho- 
slovakia, even the educated German swallowed the propa- 



BETWEEN TWO WARS 



67 



ganda adroitly served up to him by Goebbcls because be 
never had the opportunity of hearing the other side. Men 
like General Beck and Ulrich von Hassell, who could view 
European affairs dispassionately and from an international 
standpoint, were few and far between, as, indeed, they are 
in any country. This does not in any way excuse German 
aggression : it merely explains why it did not horrify the 
German professional soldier as much as it did the rest of 
the world. 

From Hitler's headquarters, Rommel had a bird's-eye 
view of the lightning campaign which overwhelmed Poland 
in four weeks, before the bulk of the Polish army had even 
reached its concentration areas. On September 2nd he was 
at Prusc/o, on the I Oth at Kielce, on the 13th at Lodz and 
on October 5th at Warsaw, which had capitulated on Sep- 
tember 30th. A day or two later he was on his way back 
to Berlin. He did not fail to profit by this object-lesson in 
the art of modern war. He saw the importance of close air 
co-operation with the ground troops and of "ground- 
strafing" by low-flying aircraft, which the R.A.F. was 
strangely reluctant to learn. He saw that to spread con- 
fusion in the back areas was often more demoralising to the 
enemy than to inflict casualties. He saw that, in mechanised 
warfare, what paid was to push on and exploit success in 
depth, even at the risk of being cut off, by-passing points 
of resistance and leaving them to be dealt with at leisure by 
the oncoming infantry. (This was merely an adaptation to 
armour of Ludendorff's infiltration tactics in the March, 
1918, offensive and of his own practice in Rumania and 
Italy.) He saw that tanks must be used in mass and not dis- 
persed in " penny packets." Above all, he saw that, for a 
man of his temperament, an armoured division was the one 
command. 

Incidentally, the campaign confirmed his opinion of Hit- 
ler's personal courage. " I had great trouble with him," he 



68 



ROMMEL 



told his wife ; " he was always wanting to be right up with 
the forward troops. He seemed to enjoy being under fire." 
During the invasion of Normandy, Rommel did not find the 
Fiihrer conspicuous for courage. But by then he had long 
since revised his opinion of him on other grounds. 



■ w 



Chapter Four 

GHOST DIVISION 

To those who took no part in it, the five weeks' fighting 
that preceded the fall of France seemed curiously unreal. 
It was as though one watched a familiar building, struck by 
a heavy bomb, in that split second before it crumbles and 
subsides into dust. 

I had, I remember, flown back to India by K.L.M. from a 
week's hurried leave in England, landing at Jodhpur on the 
morning of May 10th. The previous Sunday, a magical 
spring day, I had lunched in the Bois, where the chestnuts 
were in bloom. Over a cigar and a second brandy I had 
wondered idly when, if ever, I should do anything so 
pleasant again, for there was no doubt that the " phoney " 
war was coming to an end. But it was only a vague, personal 
foreboding, which few in Paris seemed to share. " Cette fois 
on les aura," said the barman in the hotel when I left to 
catch the night train to Rome. " Ca ne sera pas comme en 
quatorze." He wore the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre in his 
DVyAon-hole and seemed a sensible chap. 

As I sat in the U.S. Club in Simla a week or so later and 
heard over the wireless the old familiar names, Cambrai, 
Marcoing, Peronne, Arras, Bapaume, the La Bassee Canal, 
B6thune and, soon, Amiens, Abbeville, Fecamp, St. 
Valery, names associated with battles in which, after months 
of bloody fighting, gains could be seen only on trench-maps, 
or with back areas where one went out thankfully to rest, it 
seemed impossible that this could be happening in a country 
one had known. Were British troops really fighting again 
over that old, once shell-torn ground ? Could it be true that 



70 



ROMMEL 



they were being pushed out overnight from places where 
the line had been held for years? 

Dunkirk was different One could visualise the beaches 
and the long lines of men stretching far out into the sea. But 
for me at least the weeks before were like some horrid 
dream, in which one went abstractedly to work, agreed with 
someone in the G.H.Q. mess that " It looks damned bad," 
but from which one expected at any moment to awake. 

It was only long after the flood of victory had flowed 
again over the lost ground, only the other day, in fact, that 
I began to get the feel of it, to realise what it must have 
been like to live through those bewildering, hopeless weeks 
— and that from the other side. 

On the red cloth of the dining-room table, in the little 
house in Hcrrlingen-bei-Ulm, with a painting of Rommel 
in uniform looking down at us from the wall, Manfred 
Rommel and T opened out the huge velvet-covered volume 
in which the day-by-day and round-by-round story of the 
7th Panzer Division, the "Ghost Division," is recorded. 
Rommel was a great one for records. To Captain Aldinger, 
his old companion in the Wurttemberg battalion in the pre- 
vious war, recalled from retirement and the designing of 
peaceful gardens to become his Ordonnanzoffizier in this, 
was given the task of collecting the orders and maps and 
casualty returns for each day that the division was in action 
and, subsequently, of collating them. Captain Aldinger, as 
might be expected of him, had done a precise and perfect 
job. On the left-hand page is a typewritten abstract of the 
orders and war diary, on the right a large-scale map on 
which the position of the divisional units and of Divisional 
H.Q. is shown hour by hour. There is not a correction nor 
an erasure. From this book, the only copy in existence, it is 
possible to see exactly what the division did between May 
10th, 1940, when it crossed the Belgian frontier, to 5 p.m. 
on June 19th, when Cherbourg capitulated to it uncondi- 
tionally and Rommel accepted, in the Military Prefecture', 



CHOST DIVISION 



71 



the surrender of Admiral d'Abrial, with four other French 
admirals and 30,000 prisoners-of-war. 

Nothing, I realise, could be more tedious than to follow 
its fortunes in such detail. Some day some military historian 
may do so in the way of duty, though it seems unlikely that 
the French will care, the British take the trouble, the Ameri- 
cans be interested or the Germans look backwards, to fight 
these old battles over again. Nevertheless, having spent a 
week-end on the record, page by page, I venture to think that 
not even General Patton's advances will show armour more 
boldly handled or a commander more ready to take risks 
and quicker to exploit success. General von Thoma has said 
that Rommel was really an infantryman at heart, that he 
never understood the " technique " of tanks but merely the 
tactics. (He admits that he was an infantry tactician of the 
first order.) Since General von Thoma himself fought in 
192 tank engagements during the Spanish Civil War alone, 
many of them against Russian tanks under Marshal Koniev, 
and, after commanding a tank brigade with great dash and 
skill in Poland, was Chief Staff Officer of the German 
Mobile Forces, he ought to know. But when one reads the 
story of the " Ghost Division " it is not surprising that Rom- 
mel taught us a trick or two in Africa about the use of tanks. 

On his return from Poland he remained at the Fuhrer's 
H.Q. and was again responsible for his safety. But he was 
acbj~g for a fighting command and by this time knew Hitler 
well enough to ask him for it Hitler, for his part, had taken 
a fancy to Rommel who was not of the arrogant type of 
officer with whom he felt ill at ease, however much he 
bullied them, perhaps because he knew they secretly des- 
pised him. " What do you want ?" he asked and the reply 
was naturally " command of a Panzer Division." Rommel 
took over the 7th Panzer Division at Godesberg, on the 
Rhine, on February 15th, 1940, succeeding General 
Stumme, whom he was to succeed again when Stumme died 
of a heart-attack at the beginning of the battle of El 



72 



ROMMEL 



Alamein. Frau Rommel remained with Manfred in the 
house at Wiener Neustadt. 

Rommel had just time enough to make himsell known to 
every officer and man in the division and to get to know at 
least the officers personally, before they were on the move. 
In two months' intensive training he also had time to work 
out his own theories of tank tactics on the ground and to 
apply the lessons he had learnt in Poland. When the order 
came for the advance into Belgium, the division was fighting 
fit and knew that it was under a commander who, whatever 
mistakes he might make, would make none through hesi- 
tating to " have a go." 

On May I Oth the frontier was crossed about thirty miles 
south of Liege. On May 13th the division had its first big 
task, to effect a passage of the Meuse. The Belgians fought 
well from houses which had been put into a state of defence 
and from pill-boxes. They had anti-tank guns in concrete 
positions and plenty of covering artillery. A bridge had to 
be built under heavy fire and Rommel was up to his waist 
in water helping to shift baulks of timber. " I'll give you a 
hand," he said, and stayed with them until he was sure that 
the job would be done. Divisional commanders doubtless 
have no business to be messing about in the front line. But 
it was a story which did not take long to go round the divi- 
sion. Rommel had already re-earned his old reputation of 
never asking men to do what he would not do himself. To- 
•wards evening the French counter-attacked with tanks and 
infantry but the attacks were beaten off and by nightfall the 
first tanks were across, with Rommel's tank leading. 

The next day was nearly the end of him. He drove in his 
tank into a sand quarry and came under heavy anti-tank 
fire. The tank was put out of action, Rommel was hit in the 
face and French native troops were advancing to capture 
him when Colonel Rothenburg, commanding 25th Panzer 
Regiment, who won the Pour le Merite and Knighthood 



GHOST DIVISION 



73 



Cross during these operations and was afterwards to die in 
Russia, came up in his own tank and drove them off. 

By May 15th, 7th Division was far ahead of 5th Panzer 
Division on its right flank and during the night, Rommel, 
still in front, captured a French battery when it was moving 
up into what its commander supposed to be a supporting 
position. 

The following night the division broke through the exten- 
sion of the Maginot line in the fortified zone west of Glair- 
fay. The rearward positions, with their artillery and 
anti-tank guns under concrete, were smothered with arti- 
ficial fog and artillery fire; the villages to the flanks were 
blanked off by the same means. At 1 1 p.m. the attack was 
lauched by moonlight, the tanks and the motor-cycle battal- 
ion leading. The mass of the division followed. The higher 
command had laid down that tanks should not fire while 
on the move. Rommel disregarded this order and en- 
couraged his tank crews to do so, saying that loss of accu- 
racy and consequent waste of ammunition were more than 
compensated by moral effect under such conditions. " We'll 
do it like the Navy," he said, " fire salvoes to port and star- 
board." As they broke into and out of Avesnes around mid- 
night, leaving it still occupied by French troops, with French 
tanks firing wildly in all directions and heavy street fighting 
continuing, the German tanks fired on the move at batteries 
w both flanks. A French mechanised division retreating 
westward along the road, crowded with refugees, and 
French tanks parked alongside it were overrun before they 
could come into action. An artillery regiment followed the 
tanks through Avesnes during the night and captured forty- 
eight tanks intact. French infantry ran, throwing away their 
weapons and spreading panic before them. Had all stood 
fast the Gennans would have been in trouble, for the guns 
of their tanks and the ported anti-tank guns of the motor- 
cycle battalion could at first do nothing in Avesnes against 
the heavy armour of the French tanks. 



74 



ROMMEL 



" Vous ites anglais?*' asked a Frenchwoman of Rommel, 
patting him on the arm as he stood beside his tank in a 
village street beyond Avesnes. u Non, Madame, je suis 
allemand" replied Rommel, who had a smattering of 
several languages, though he was no linguist. "Oh, les 
bar bares!" cried the woman and, throwing her apron over 
her head, ran into her house. 

Meanwhile all communications were interrupted and 
even the infantry brigade was not aware of the break- 
through. Nevertheless, Rommel determined, on his own 
responsibility, to launch the whole division in an attack to- 
wards the west, in an endeavour to reach the Sambre, secure 
a bridgehead and keep it open. The attack began about 
5.30 in the morning (this after a night's continuous fighting), 
with 25th Panzer Regiment pushing towards Landrecies, 
where the Guards were first engaged in World War I. They 
were attacked by motorised columns from both flanks but 
the French infantry were shocked into surrender by the 
sudden appearance of the German annour. By 6 a.m. 
Landrecies was captured, large numbers of French troops 
caught in their barracks and a bridge over the Sambre 
seized intact. Rommel made the French throw down their 
arms, over which he drove a tank. The regiment pushed on 
to Le Gateau, where it was halted by Rommel, for the 
advance had been made by only two of its battalions, with 
part of the motor-cycle battalion, and the mass of the divi- 
sion was far behind. While 25th Panzer Regiment took up a 
position on high ground east of Le Gateau, Rommel himself 
went back in an annoured car to bring it up. 

All day the 25th Panzer Regiment was heavily attacked 
by tanks. Behind it, Pommereuil was recaptured by the 
French, who were thrown out again by the oncoming divi- 
sion. By the evening of May 17 th the. situation was suffi- 
ciently clear to allow the divisional artillery to move up into 
forward positions and another bridge over the Sambre had 
been seized at Berlimont, to enable 5th Panzer Division, now 



GHOST DIVISION 



75 



completely outdistanced, to come up and cross on the right. 

If one looks at the map, one sees that Rommel had pushed 
forward a narrow salient, thirty miles Jong and only two 
miles wide, like a linger pointing into the heart of France. 
(From Avesnes to TiC Gateau alone is nearly fifteen miles.) 
In doing so he had taken enormous risks, for there were 
strong French forces on both flanks. Hut he had broken 
through the fortified zone and had secured the vital cross- 
ings of the Sambre. The operations were rightly regarded 
as of great importance to the progress of the campaign and 
for his success and his personal bravery Rommel was given 
the Knighthood Gross. 

That boldness pays is shown by the fact that the Division's 
total casualties were only 35 killed and 59 wounded, whereas 
it had taken over 10,000 prisoners in two days, and captured 
or destroyed 100 tanks, 30 armoured cars and 27 guns. 

Though there were great difficulties in bringing up petrol" 
and enemy tank attacks were still continuing on either flank, 
25th Panzer Regiment pushed on at the same speed and by 
5 a.m. on May 20th, by-passing Gambrai, it had crossed the 
Ganal du Nord at Marcoing and taken up a position south 
of Arras. On the way, French troops had once more been 
captured in their barracks. Again the mass of the division 
was left behind and again Rommel went back to bring it 
up, taking with him two tanks, his signal section and an 
aifhoured car. On the Arras-Gambrai road, at Visc-ert- 
Artois, he ran into the enemy, his two tanks were destroyed 
and he remained surrounded for several hours. 

The fighting round Arras on May 21st is of interest be- 
cause it was here that, for the first time in either war, 
Rommel bumped up against the British. It is pleasant to 
record that he found them a much tougher proposition than 
anything he had yet encountered. Debouching from Arras 
to the south and south-east, the 1st Army Tank Brigade of 
the 1st Armoured Division attacked him around Achicourt 
and Agny. They broke through and his 42nd Anti-Tahk 



76 ROMMEL 

Battalion was overrun, most of the gun crews being killed, 
for the Germans found, to their surprise, that they could 
not penetrate the armour of the " I " tanks, even at close 
range. The attack was only stopped by artillery fire from 
an artillery regiment, and from a flak (AA) battery armed 
with 88 mm. guns — a weapon which doubtless came as an 
equally unpleasant surprise to us. Even so, Stukas had to 
be called in before the British armour withdrew again to 
Arras. 

Meanwhile 25th Panzer Regiment which, as usual, had 
pushed on and reached the high ground south of the Scarpe 
at Acq, was ordered by Rommel to turn round and attack 
the British tanks in the rear. In the tank battle which fol- 
lowed near Agnes, though the British lost seven tanks and 
six A.T. guns, 25th Panzer Regiment lost three Mark IVs, 
six Mark Ills and some light tanks and thus had consider- 
ably the worst of it. Rommel, forced to fight a defensive 
action for once, had another narrow escape, for an officer 
was killed beside him while the two of them were looking 
at a map which both were holding. 

That this was a harder day is shown by the fact that the 
division lost 250 in killed and captured alone, whereas its 
total bag of British prisoners was only 50, though it claimed 
43 British tanks destroyed. 

The next few days were tough, too. The division crossed 
the Scarpe on May 22nd but the diary records that British 
tank attacks were beaten off with difficulty, that mines had 
to be laid against them, that Mont St. Eloi was captured and 
lost and captured again and so on. In the advance to the La 
Bassee Canal on the 24th, British snipers are reported as 
being active in the bushes and hedges south of the Canal 
and difficult to dislodge. In spite of them, bridgeheads were 
secured on both sides of Guinchy on the 26th, the first tanks 
and guns went over on the 27th, on the 28th the division 
had taken up a line facing east towards Lille and on the 
29th it was ordered out to rest west of Arras. Rommel, with 



GHOST DIVISION 



77 



his usual curiosity, celebrated his first day of rest after a 
fortnight's continuous fighting by driving into Lille. When 
he saw that the streets were full of British and French sol- 
diers, he realised that he had made a mistake. Since they 
were as surprised as he, but for a second or two longer, he 
was able to turn the car round and drive out before any 
one had the presence of mind to interfere with him. Count- 
ing up his recorded escapes from dead) or capture during 
this period, apart from the ordinary risks which a divisional 
commander runs who insists on leading his advanced guard 
personally into action, one feels that we were a little unlucky 
to be bothered with Erwin Rommel in Africa. 

Within a few days the division was pulled out of rest 
again and given a special task. The end was now in sight. 
The French were patently on the point of being driven out 
of the war and the British had already been driven out of 
France. Between May 29th and June 4th, more than 
300,000 British troops had been embarked at Dunkirk — 
thanks to Hitler's refusal to allow the German armour to be 
put in against them. There remained the 51st Highland 
Division, landed too late and now about to take ship .again 
from Fecamp and St. Val£ry. It was for Rommel to stop 
them. He had first to cross the Somme and break through 
what was left of the Weygand Line. 

A race against time was the sort of thing that appealed 
t$ him and he wasted none of it. Having made a personal 
" recce " with his regimental and battalion commanders, he 
crossed the Somme on the morning of June 6th. That day 
and the next he met with opposition and had to stage attacks 
to clear it. Then, right shoulder up, he squared away 
towards the East of Rouen. 

The division moved at night and as the tanks rumbled 
and clanked through the silent villages, the French peasants, 
thinking them British, turned out to wish the crews " bonne 
chance." They went on their way without speaking. On the 
night of June 9th they reached the Seine, ten miles south- 



78 



ROMMEL 



west of Rouen. Next morning some bolder spirit found the 
heart to put up a fight at Yvetot. Whoever he was, he was 
thrust aside. By 2.15 in the afternoon the division had 
covered the twenty miles from Yvetot to Veulettes and 
reached the sea, between Fecamp and St. Valery. This time 
it was closed up and the divisional artillery was well 
forward. 

At Fecamp, embarkation was going on and ships were 
lying off' the shore under destroyer escort when 37th Panzer 
Battalion appeared and, with its supporting artillery, at once 
engaged them. A British destroyer promptly closed for 
action and was reported hit. So were other vessels and the 
little harbour was brought under heavy artillery fire. In 
such conditions, embarkation by daylight was soon made 
impossible. 

St. Valery was the real prize, for here were the head- 
quarters of General Fortune, commanding the 51st Division, 
and it was here that the bulk of the division was preparing 
to embark. During the night of June 10th and the morning 
of the 11th Rommel seized the high ground to the west, 
from which he could bring the port under artillery fire. At 
3.30 p.m. he himself led 25th Panzer Regiment and part of 
6th Infantry Regiment in to the attack, under cover of his 
guns. 

At the 5 1 st Division dinner last year, Field-Marshal Lord 
Montgomery said that he sensed in the division at £1 
Alamein a certain anxiousness to do well and avenge the 
tragedy of St. Valery and that it was at Alamein that the 
reborn Highland Division, advancing to the attack to the 
skirl of the pipes, at last " found its soul." But although St. 
Valery was a tragedy for the successors of "Uncle" 
Harper's boys of the 1914-18 war, it is due to the division 
to say that its enemies of 7th Panzer Division were not under 
the impression that it had lost its soul or its fighting spirit 
in those June days of 1940. " The enemy fought back des- 
perately, first with artillery and anti-tank guns and later with 



GHOST DIVISION 



79 



machine-guns and small arms : there was particularly hard 
fighting round Le Tot and on the road St. Sylvain-St. 
Valery," says the record and this, and the tribute to the 
British armour around Arras, are among the very few entries 
in which it is admitted that the Ghost Division had found 
the going hard. 

By evening, Rommel had taken about a thousand 
prisoners and, what was more important, was in a domi- 
nating position west of St. Valery from which his guns could 
prevent embarkation from the harbour. Nevertheless, in 
the evening heavy fighting was still going on and first two 
(Pioneer) battalions and then the rest of the division were 
ordered up in support. A written demand from Rommel to 
General Fortune to surrender and march out the 51st 
Division under white flags to the west was refused and the 
Germans could see that barricades were being erected on 
the harbour moles and that guns and machine-guns were 
heing brought into position. 

At 9 p.m. a heavy bombardment was opened. The con- 
centrated fire of the whole of the divisional heavy and light 
artillery was brought to bear on the northern part of St. 
Valery and the harbour and 2500 shells fell in this small 
area. At the same time 25th Panzer Regiment was again 
put into the attack, with 7th Infantry Regiment and 37th 
Pioneer Battalion. The line was advanced nearer to St. 
Valery. But " in spite of the heavy fire the tenacious British 
troops Hid not give up. They hoped to be embarked during 
the night but the enemy was prevented by heavy artillery 
fire from loading. In the early morning hours the British are 
busy trying to embark from the steep coast to the east of St. 
Valery, under cover of fire from warships. But the divisional 
artillery first hinders this and later makes it impossible. 
There is a duel between a warship and the 88 mni» A* A. 
battery. . . . 8th Machine Gun Battalion attacks. . . . Parts 
of 6th and 7th Infantry Regiments attack and gain more 
ground near St. Val6ry. ... On the left, Rommel, with 25th 



80 



ROMMEL 



Panzer Regiment under Colonel Rothenburg and part of 
7th Infantry Regiment, pushes into St. Valery itself and 
compels capitulation as the enemy commander sees that 
further resistance is impossible." 

Twelve thousand prisoners were taken at St. Valery, of 
whom eight thousand were British. They included, beside 
Major-General Fortune himself, the commanders of the 9th 
French Army Corps and of three French divisions. Tanks 
to the number of 58, 56 guns, 17 A. A. guns, 22 A.T. guns, 
368 machine-guns, 3550 rifles (there must have been more 
in the harbour), and 1 1 33 trucks were amongst the booty. 
The divisional artillery claimed an armoured cruiser sunk, 
which would be an unusual victim for a panzer division, but 
I am advised by the Admiralty that this claim is unfounded. 

Rommel never forgot General Fortune and often spoke 
of him to his wife and to his son Manfred with sympathy, as 
.the gallant leader of a good division who had had bad luck. 
Somehow he happened to hear that General Fortune had 
refused to be repatriated, feeling that he could do more for 
the officers and men of the 51st Division by remaining with 
them in captivity, and this increased his respect for him. It 
would appear that General Fortune also remembered Rom- 
mel. Not long ago a German prisoner-of-war, repatriated 
from the Channel Islands, came to Herrlingen to see Frau 
Rommel and to say that he had met General Fortune and 
had been asked by him to visit her, if possible, on his return 
to Germany and to express the General's sympathy on her 
husband's death. I could not check this story with Major- 
General Fortune before he died but it would appear to be 
true, since a German soldier could hardly have invented it. 
I hope so, for I am one of those old-fashioned persons who 
regret that chivalry should be among the casualties of 
" total " war. Fortunately it dies hard and keeps cropping 
up in unexpected places, as will be seen lacer in this book. 

The surrender of St. Val&y was on June 1 2th. On June 



M, 



Cw HOST DIVISION 



81 



17th, the day that Petain asked for an armistice, three days 
after the Germans entered Paris, the 7 tl i Panzer Division 
was pushing up the Cotentin Peninsula to attack Cherbourg. 
One column moved along the coast through Goutance, 
another through St. L6, a name which few could then have 
pin-pointed on the map but which to-day must be as familiar 
to many Americans as Detroit. Without any support, it had 
moved 150 miles and met no opposition to speak of. But just 
before midnight on the 17th it bumped a strong French posi- 
tion at Le Fosses and the battalion was driven back by 
heavy fire from artillery and anti-tank guns. Here, again, 
was an unknown Frenchman with some fight left in him. 

Rommel, a cautious commander when there was no 
reason to be reckless, decided to call the action off and 
resume it in daylight, when he could judge what he was up 
against. Meanwhile he moved up an infantry brigade and 
an artillery regiment with some batteries of light artd heavy 
A. A. By 8 a.m. he had broken through and resumed the 
advance on Cherbourg. At 1.15, when he was only three 
miles south-west of the city, he ran into road blocks, 
strongly held. At the same time he came under heavy 
artillery fire from the forts. By 5 p.m., however, height 79, 
just west of Cherbourg, had been captured and during the 
evening 7 th Infantry Regiment under Colonel von Bis- 
marck, with two panzer companies, had taken the high 
ground at Quercqueville and pushed into the suburbs of 
the city. Before midnight his troops had reached the railway 
station. 

During the night the divisional artillery was moved up to 
begin the bombardment of the forts next morning. At first 
light it. opened up and silenced the most troublesome of 
them, while the infantry pushed farther into the suburbs. 

General Collins of the United States 7th Corps was nick- 
named " Lightning Joe " for capturing Cherbourg widiih 
twenty days of the landing in Normandy. He had to fight 
for it, however. There was no fight in the senior French 



82 



ROMMEL 



officers of both services who were in Cherbourg in June, 
1940. It is charitable to suppose that they already knew of 
P£tain's request for an armistice. Otherwise there would 
seem to be no excuse for the fact that they surrendered the 
fortress and 30,000 men to a single armoured division, barely 
twelve hours after it had come within range of the formi- 
dable fortress guns. 

That was what happened. At 2 p.m. on Tune 1 9th French 
naval and military officers came out to offer unconditional 
surrender and the fighting stopped. At 5 p.m. the formal 
capitulation paper was sifmed. In the harbour was the un- 
damaged transport of a British mechanised division. 

The division was withdrawn before it could take over and 
count the arms in the forts. But in the operations from May 
10th it had captured : 

The Admiral of the French Navy (North) and 
4 other admirals, 
1 Corps Commander, 

4 Divisional Commanders with their staffs, 
277 guns and 64 A.T. guns, 
458 tanks and armoured cars, 
4-5000 trucks, 
1500-2000 cars, 

1500-2000 horse and mule wagons, 
300-400 buses, 
300-400 motor-cycles, 

and the major part of the 97,468 prisoners credited to the 
Group to which it belonged. It had brought down 52 air- 
craft, captured 15 more on the ground and destroyed 12 
more. 

There was much more booty which could not be counted 
because the division had moved too fast. Nor was there time 
to calculate, even approximately, the losses in killed and 
wounded which it had inflicted on the enemy. Its own 

* 



OHOST DIVIS ION 



83 



casualties during the period were : 48 officers killed and 77 
wounded; 108 sergeants and above killed and 317 wounded; 
526 other ranks killed and 1252 wounded; 3 officers, 34 
sergeants and above and 229 other ranks missing. It had 
lost in tanks, Mark I, 3; Mark II, 5; Mark III, 26; and 
Mark IV, 8. 

The figures of casualties and tank losses are small com- 
pared with what was accomplished. At the same time, when 
one remembers that Rommel was always properly parsi- 
monious with men's lives, they are by no means negligible. 
They prove that the division had had hard fighting and had 
not merely chased a beaten enemy across France. 



Chapter Five 



"NONE SO BLIND . . .» 

The Good Fairy who looks after the British had to work 
overtime in 1940. She never did them a hetter turn than 

■ 

when, despite her deputy, Mr. Churchill, sHe saw to it that 
the French did not continue the war in North Africa. Had 
they done so, Hitler must have followed them. Spain would 
have come in or heen forced to allow the passage of German 
troops. Gibraltar would have fallen. The western end of 
the Mediterranean would have been closed. French 
colonial troops would never have stood against German 
armour. Stiffened by a couple of German panzer divisions, 
even the chicken-hearted Graziani must have been dug out 
of his deep shelter and hustled into Cairo by Christmas. 
Britain's last base within striking distance of Europe would 
have gone. The loss of the Suez Canal would have closed 
the other end of the Mediterranean. The road to Syria, 
Iraq, Ix&n and, ultimately, the Caucasus would have been 
wide open. Turkey could have been pinched out or coerced 
into joining the Axis. Such are the contentions of better 
strategists than I. Had the half of it come off the Good 
Fairy would have had her hands full. 

Only the German Naval Staff correctly appreciated these 
resplendent possibilities. With no taste for " Operation Sea 
Lion," the invasion of Britain, Admiral Raeder suggested, 
on September 6th, 1940, that the best way to strike at her 
was to exclude her from the Mediterranean. On September 
26th he was more explicit. " The British," he said, " have 
always considered the Mediterranean the pivot of their 
world-empire. . . . Italy is fast becoming the main target of 

84 



''none so blind . . . M 



85 



attack. . . Britain always attempts to strangle the weaker. 
The Italians have not yet realised their danger when they 
refuse our help. . . For this reason the Mediterranean ques- 
tion must he cleared up during the winter months* Gihraltar 
must he taken. . The Suez Canal must be taken. It is 
doubtful whether the Italians can accomplish this alone; 
support by German troops will be needed. An advance from 
Suez through Palestine and Syria as far as Turkey is neces- 
sary. If we reach that point, Turkey will be in our power. 
The Russian problem will then appear in a different light. 
Fundamentally, Russia is afraid of Germany. It is doubtful 
whether an advance against Russia from the north will be 
necessary. . . The question of North- West Africa is also of 
decisive importance. All indications are that Britain, with 
the help of Gaullist France, and possibly also of the U.S.A., 
wants to make Jthis region a centre of resistance and to set 
up air bases for an attack against Italy. . . . In this way Italy 
would be defeated." If Admiral Raeder is ever visited by 
the shades of Hitler, Keitel and Jodl he may well greet them 
with " Don't say I didn't tell you !" 

" The Fuhrer agrees with the general line of thought,'* 
add the minutes of the meeting. Why, then, did he not 
follow it out? First, he was not sea-minded. Second, he,, 
half believed, even in the late summer of 1940, that Britain 
wguld come to terms. Third, if she were obstinate, he hoped 
to " attract France into the orbit of the anti-British coali- 
tion," as Ciano reported after the Brenner meeting on 
October 4th. Lastly, by the end of September, the Russian 
bee was already buzzing in his bonnet. Of these deterrents, 
the first was a disability he shared with Field-Marshal 
Keitel, Colonel-General Jodl and Colonel-General Haider, 
his military advisers. The second was a private illusion 
which Mr. Churchill had done his best publicly to dispel. 
The French coup he might very well have brought off, had 
he made a quick and generous peace. The majority of 
Frenchmen would almost certainly have settled down and, 



86 



ROMMEL 



temporarily at least, accepted a German hegemony over 
Europe. There were no very hard feelings against the Ger- 
man Army. On the contrary, it was regarded with grudging 
admiration. To-day, even ex-members of the Resistance 
reserve their hatred for (a) Darnand's milice and collabora- 
tors generally; (b) the Gestapo; (c) the S.S., in that order. 
The German Army comes a bad fourth. " On ne pent pas 
dire qu'ih n'etaient pas assez corrects, ces gens-la " is still 
commonly said in the part of France where I am writing. 
Their conduct is, indeed, often favourably compared with 
that of the American liberators. As for the last fatal folly, 
there was no cure for that but the Russian winter and the 
Red Army. 

Obsessed though he was with Russia, Hitler did not alto- 
gether forget North Africa. Heavy-handed efforts were 
made by Ribbentrop to bring Franco into the war. A plan 
(" Operation Felix ") was prepared for the capture of Gib- 
raltar. Goering's pet scheme of a triple thrust into Morocco, 
Tripolitania and the Balkans was strongly pressed by its 
author and at least considered. Moreover, though we did 
not know it at the time, General von Thoma, Chief of the 
German Mobile Forces at Army Headquarters, was sent in 
October to see General Graziani and discuss the dispatch of 
German troops to Libya. General von Thoma reported 
against the proposal, which was, he says, mainly political — 
to ensure that Mussolini did not change sides. His conten- 
tion was that nothing less than a force of four panzer divi- 
sions would be of any use, that these could only be main- 
tained with difficulty, if at all, in the face of British 
sea-power, and that they would have to be substituted for 
Italians. Graziani and Badoglio would object to arty such 
substitution and, in fact, did not want German troops at all. 

General vbn Thoma added that the African theatre was 
only suitable for the sort of war that General I^ettow- 
Vorbeck had carried on in East Africa during World War I. 
He claims that Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch and Colonel* 



"none so blind..." 



87 



General Haider, his Chief of Staff, agreed with him and 
were also against sending German troops to Africa, which 
is very probable. They had both opposed von Manstein's 
plan of breaking into France through the Ardennes instead 
of through the Low Countries and Hitler had overruled 
them. Hitler lost his temper and von Thoma feels that the 
reason he was never sent to Africa in command until the 
war was already lost there (he arrived at El Alamein, where 
he was captured, on September 20th, 1942), was Hitler's 
spite. 

It does not seem to have occurred to him even after the 
war that, whether Hitler's motives were political or military, 
he was right and von Brauchitsch, Haider and he, von 
Thoma, were wrong. Hitler should, no doubt, have over- 
ruled his military advisers, the more so as General von 
Thoma takes some pride in having pointed out to him, on 
the strength of his experience in Spain, that the Italian 
troops were useless, that " one British soldier was better than 
twelve Italians," that " Italians are good workers but no 
fighters : they don't like the noise ! " and so on. But who, 
except General von Thoma, could suppose that General 
Wavell would dare to attack so vastly superior a force or 
that Graziani's army would crumble as quickly and com- 
pletely as it did? 

When the first golden opportunity was already lost and 
Graziani defeated, Hitler took action. Having offered 
Mussolini German anti-tank units after the fall of Sidi- 
Barrani and suggested (a delicate matter for one dictator 
to another) placing Italian troops under German command, 
he woke up completely on the capture of Bardia and told 
his Chiefs of Staff that he was resolved to do everything in 
his power to prevent Italy from losing North Africa. . . . 
" The Fiihrer is firmly determined to give the Italians sup- 
port. German formations are to be transferred as soon as 
possible, equipped with anti-tank guns and mines, heavy 
tanks, and light and heavy A.A. guns. . . . Material is to be 



88 



ROMMEL 



shipped by sea, personnel by air. . . . Units cannot be trans- 
ferred until the middle of February and will then take about 
five more weeks from the time of loading." 

At a conference between Hitler, Mussolini and their staffs 
on January 19th and 20th, the Italians reported that they 
were bringing their three divisions in Tripoli up to full 
strength and transferring one armoured division and one 
motorised division from Italy, the move to be completed 
about February 20th. They " very warmly welcome the dis- 
patch of the German 5th Light (Motorised) Division." Its 
move was to be made between February 15th and 20th but 
equipment could be shipped earlier. At another, domestic, 
conference on February 3rd, Hitler told his Army Staff that 
" the loss of North Africa could be withstood in the military 
sense but must have a strong psychological effect on Italy. 
Britain could hold a pistol at Italy's head. . . . The British 
forces in the Mediterranean would not be tied down. The 
British would have the free use of a dozen divisions and 
could employ them most dangerously in Syria. We must 
make every effort to prevent this. . . We must render effec- 
tive assistance in North Africa.'* The Luftwaffe, which had 
already been ordered to assist the Italians, must intervene 
still more actively with Stukas and fighters and must strike 
a blow against the British troops in Cyrcnaica, using the 
heaviest bombs. It must work in co-operation with the 
Italian Air Force to protect the transports, to disrupt British 
supplies by land and sea and to combat the British fleet. 
But first of all attempts must be made to subdue the air 
base of Malta. 

Even if this intervention were enough to bring the British 
advance to a standstill, the " blocking unit," the 5th Light 
Division, was still insufficient, said Hitler, and must be rein- 
forced by a strong armoured unit. The dispatch of German 
troops must be speeded up and air transport used if neces- 
sary. 

All this was well enough. It will be seen, however, that 



"none so blind . . 



89 



the thinking was purely defensive. Hitler said as much in a 
letter to Mussolini on February 28th. 41 If we arc patient for 
another five days," he wrote, *' I am sure that any new 
British attempt to push on towards Tripoli is bound to fail. 
] am very grateful to you, Ducc, for the fact that you have 
placed your motorised units at the disposal of General Rom- 
mel, fie will not let you down and I am convinced that in 
the near future he will have won the loyalty and, I hope, 
the affection of your troops. I believe that the mere arrival 
of the first Panzer Regiment will represent an exceptional 
reinforcement of your position. 7 ' The last part of this pre- 
diction, at least, was soon to be proved correct. 

Hitler thus realised the importance of not losing North 
Africa. Neither he nor his staff seem to have seen the possi- 
bility of conquering it and the far-reaching results that 
would flow from a successful offensive against Egypt. 
Haider, for example, never took the North African cam- 
paign seriously from the start and never regarded it as more 
than a political move to keep the Italians in the war. For 
this the outlay of three or four divisions might not prove too 
costly, " Of course, if the opportunity for offensive action 
presented itself we would take it but on the whole we re- 
garded the matter as a fight for time," he said in his inter- 
rogation. " I last talked to Rommel about this subject in the 
jpring of 1 942. At that time he told me that he would con- 
quer Egypt and the Suez Canal and then he spoke of East 
Africa. I could not restrain a somewhat impolite smile and 
asked him what he would need for the purpose. He thought 
he would want another two armoured corps. I asked him : 
*Even if we had them, how would you supply and feed 
them?' To this question his reply was, 'That's quite im- 
material to me; that's your problem!' As events in Africa 
grew worse, Rommel kept demanding more and more aid. 
Where it was to come from didn't worry him. Then the 
Italians began to complain because they were losing their 
shipping in the process. If history succeeds in unravelling 



90 



ROMMEL 



the threads of what went on in Africa, it will have achieved 
a miracle, for Rommel managed to get tilings into such an 
unholy muddle that I doubt whether any one will ever be 
able to make head or tail of it." 

Rommel is dead but the unravelling is not so difficult as 
Colonel-General Haider imagines. Nor is the verdict of 
history likely to be as favourable to liimself as he supposes. 
History does not rate very highly men in key positions who 
allow their judgment to be influenced by their personal likes 
and dislikes. That Haider disliked Rommel is obvious from 
the tone of his own statement and from the adroit substitu- 
tion of " two armoured corps " for the two armoured divi- 
sions for which Rommel actually asked. It is obvious from 
the omissions. Haider speaks of a conversation in "the 
spring of 1942." He refrains from mentioning that it was 
on July 27th, 1941, that Rommel first sought permission to 
launch an offensive, with the Suez Canal as its objective and 
February, 1942, as its target date. Whatever he may have 
asked for in the spring of 1942, he then asked only for three 
German divisions, with mixed units amounting to another, 
and three extra Italian divisions. The Army Command 
jibbed at providing the extra German units and Haider or 
one of his staff wrote rude comments on the margin of the 
plan. Yet if Rommel had had four extra German divisions 
(two hundred were being employed on the Russian front 
and the Germans sent three to Tunis in three weeks after 
the Allied landings in North Africa in November, 1942), it 
is long odds that he would have reached Cairo and the 
Canal at the beginning of 1 942. 

As for supply, Haider again fails to mention that Rommel 
all along saw, what the German and Italian General Staffs 
were strangely blind in not seeing until too late, that the 
key to all supply problems and, indeed, to the control of the 
Mediterranean, was the capture of Malta. 

Lastly, Haider, perhaps naturally, omits to mention that 
Rommel once called him a bloody fool, or the German equi* 



"none so blind . . 91 

valent, and asked him what he had ever done in war except 
sit on his backside in an ofiice chair. It is not to be supposed, 
however, that he has forgotten it. 

■ 

The story of the war in North Africa is the story of an un- 
ending battle between Rommel, who saw — and proved — the 
possibility of a major success there and a High Command 
which refused to take the North African campaign seriously. 
In that battle Rommel had all the odds against him. He was 
far away in the desert and " les absents nut ioujours tort" 
He was not a General Staff officer and was, therefore, de- 
cried by the professionals. On the rare occasions when he 
saw Hitler, he could seldom see him alone. When he did, 
he found him, understandably, engrossed in Russia. He was 
patted on the back and promised support but he felt that 
any impression lie might make would be rubbed out as soon 
as he left by Hitler's entourage. Above ail, Keitel, Jodl and 
Haider were jealous of his popularity with Hitler and the 
German public, of his war record and, no doubt, of his good 
luck in having an independent command beyond the reach 
of the Fiihrer. The easiest way to "smear" him was to 
make out that, while he might be a good leader in the fields 
he was not a man whose views on the larger issues of war 
could be taken seriously. 

Rommel, for his part, had the poorest opinion of Keitel 
and Haider. In this he was not alone. Prince von Bismarck 
called Keitel an imbecile; von Hassel found him "stupid 
and narrow-minded, quite uninformed politically . . . down- 
right servile in his attitude towards the Party." His grateful 
Fiihrer described him as " a man with the mind of a movie 
doorman." As for Haider, who appears to have been the 
sour and superior type of staff officer, he struck von Hassell 
as early as 1 940 as " a weak man with shattered nerves . . . 
no more than a caddie to Hitler." Beck, his brilliant pre- 
decessor as Chief of Staff, thought him merely a competent 
technician with no personality. His record in the conspiracy 



92 



ROMMEL 



against Hitler shows him continually shivering oh the brink 
but never willing to take the plunge. Jodl, who had such 
brains and character as there were in this party, treated war 
as chess. His business was to produce plans, not to question 
orders. Ail three were identified with Hitler's ferocious 
policies in Russia and elsewhere. Keitel and Jodl were tried 
at Nuremberg and hanged. Haider, who is alleged by von 
Hassell to have signed the orders for the brutal treatment 
to be accorded to the Russians, was luckier, perhaps be- 
cause he had already spent some years in a concentration 
camp, perhaps because he was so obviously a subordinate, 
perhaps because he was needed by the Allies as a prosecution 
witness against his former superiors and so used. 

Rommel despised all three of them as " chairborne 
soldiers." He despised them for their subservience to the 
Party. When he came to know what had been done under 
their orders, he detested them for having dishonoured the 
German Wehrmacht. As will be seen, he was not afraid to 
protest against atrocities to Hitler himself. If, then, a man 
is to be judged by his enemies, these three were a good 
advertisement for Rommel. It was fortunate for the Allies 
that they were, at this time, so well entrenched at head- 
quarters. 

All these headaches and heartaches were, however, in the 
future when Rommel, in full favour with the Fuhrer, a hero 
already to the German public and promoted General- 
leutnant the month before, was appointed to the command 
of the " German troops in Libya n on February 15th, 1941., 
The only hint of them was given by Field-Marshal von 
Brauchitsch at a farewell interview in Berlin (Rommel did 
not see Hitler). His mission, von Brauchitsch told him, was 
merely to assist the Italians, who would retain the supreme 
command of operations in North Africa, and prevent a 
British advance to Tripoli. The German troops were, in 
fact, a " blocking unit " and, when he had had a look round, 



"none so blind..." 



93 



he had better come back and report whether they were 
really needed. General Schmundt, Hitlers military A.D.C., 
was to go with him, doubtless to make an independent 
report to the Fiihrer. 

Schmundt proved a good friend to Rommel, though it 
was perhaps a pity that Rommel liked and trusted him as 
much as he did. Appointed at the suggestion of KeitePs 
brother to succeed Colonel Hossbach, an old Prussian officer, 
who resigned in disgust when Colonel-General von Fritsch 
was " framed " by Himmler on a false homosexuality 
charge, Schmundt was a youngish regular officer, very good- 
looking, very intelligent, very ambitious and very " smooth." 
His friends had never known him to be a keen Nazi but, 
whether from conviction or from self-interest, he became 
one. That is to say, he became a devoted admirer of Hitler 
himself. To Rommel, of whom he seems to have been 
genuinely fond, he drew the distinction which Rommel had 
always instinctively drawn, between the Fiihrer and his fol- 
lowers. Of course Hitler was, unfortunately, surrounded by 
rascals, he would explain, most of them a legacy from the 
past. But what a great man ! What an idealist ! What a 
master to serve ! Living in the closest personal contact with 
Hitler and a witness, as he must have been, of many of his 
outbursts, can he have believed all this? It seems incredible. 
It was not incredible to Rommel who himself, when he 
served him, had seen only Hitler's better side. Thus, on 
their way to Africa and while Schmundt remained there, 
the two struck up a friendship and established a working 
partnership. Thereafter, when he wished to bring some- 
thing to the personal notice of the Fiihrer, Rommel wrote 
directly to Schmundt. Keitel and Haider suspected that they 
were being by-passed, though they could not prove it. The 
suspicion naturally did not make them any better disposed 
towards Rommel. 

This relation with Schmundt explains why Rommel so 
long preserved his illusions about Hitler for, even from Rom- 



94 



ROMMEL 



mel, Schmundt would never hear a word against the 
Fiihrer. Whatever was wrong was the fault of the Gocrings, 
the Himmlcrs, the Bormanns, the Keitels, the Jodls, the 
Haiders. Yet only a few days before the attempt of July 
20th, 1944, when Rommel was already in trouble with 
Hitler for his pessimism about the outcome of the war, 
Schmundt sent him a telegram saying, " Remember, you can 
always count on me." Schmundt was in the room with 
Hitler when the bomb exploded, and died about two months 
afterwards. Of his wounds? So it was said. Rommel was 
never quite sure. 

Meanwhile Rommel, like many a junior officer and some 
senior officers who ought to know better, had defeated 
security, when he heard of his appointment, by writing to 
his wife to let her know where he was going. " Now I shall 
be able to do something for my rheumatism," he wrote. 
Since Frau Rommel remembered that the doctor who had 
treated him for rheumatism during the campaign in France 
had said : " You need sunshine, General, you ought to be 
in Africa," the inference was not difficult to draw. How- 
ever, he was able to come home for a few hours after his 
visit to Berlin. Then he and Schmundt set off tor Rome, 
for Africa and the sunshine. The faithful Aldinger followed 
with the kit. 



Chapter Six 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 

I. ROMMEL V, WA VELL 

Rommel was just over two years in North Africa, The 
graph of his fortunes (and of ours, in reverse), during that 
period is easy to follow. There is a sharp and spectacular 
rise for his first victory in April, 1941, followed by a small 
decline for his failure to capture Tobruk on May 1st. This 
is rather more than evened off by his defeat of General 
WavelFs minor offensives in mid-May and mid- June. Then 
comes a series of rapid ups-and-downs, like the recordings 
of a demented seismograph, at the end of November and 
beginning of December, ending in a long drop when he is 
squarely beaten by Generals Auchinleck and Ritchie and 
driven back to the borders of Cyrenaica. At the end of the 
year he is once again on the datum line. There follows 
another rapid rise when he counter-attacks unexpectedly in 
January and February, 1942, and drives us in turn back to 
Lrazala. On a graph and on the ground he is about two- 
thirds of the way to the high point he reached the previous 
April. 

At the end of May, after an initial drop that lasted only a 
few days but might have been a headlong plunge to disas- 
ter, begins that most spectacular rise of all which, in a 
month, carries him over and past Tobruk, past the Egyptian 
frontier, past Mersa Matruh, Bagush and El Daba, to Ala- 
mein and the very gates of Alexandria. That is the peak. 
There General Auchinleck holds him and an almost imper- 
ceptible but ominous decline begins. General Montgomery's 

95 



96 



ROMMEL 



victories at Alam Haifa in August and El Alamcin in early 
November turn it into a descent which proceeds unbroken 
until May 12th, 1943, when the survivors of the Afrika 
Korps lay down their arms in Tunisia. Rommel himself has 
flown off to Germany two months earlier, in a vain attempt 
to persuade Hitler to allow him at least to save the men. 

The graph is easy to follow : the battles are not. Nor, I 
think, is there much point in attempting to describe them in 
detail again. Those who want to know where 4th Armoured 
Brigade was at first light on the morning of November 26th, 
1942, can turn to the official historians or to the various 
divisional histories. Those who want to see the broad pic- 
ture cannot do better than read or reread Alan Moorehead's 
African Trilogy, or the books of some of the other very able 
correspondents who accompanied the British forces. Writing 
under the stress of events, they caught the spirit of the desert 
war. Yet, since this is the story of Rommel of the Afrika 
Korps, I cannot altogether omit his battles in North Africa. 
The reader must be asked to join or rejoin the Benghazi 
Harriers and travel familiar ground, the same old coast road, 
the same- old desert tracks. It may be a change to go 
part of the way in a German truck. 

When I mentioned to Alan Moorehead that I thought of 
writing this book, he suggested that it might be useful to get 
into touch with a German war-artist named Wessels. Wessels 
was with Rommel in North Africa and Alan considered his 
water-colour drawings of the Western Desert the best he had 
ever seen. Unfortunately he had mislaid the address. Be- 
fore he could find it, I had set off for Germany, to stay with 
the 10th Hussars at Iserlohn and look around from there. 
As soon as I arrived, the CO. of the 10th, also an " old 
boy " of Campo P.G. 29, our prison-camp in Italy, said that 
I might, perhaps, like to meet a German war-artist named 
Wessels who was with Rommel in North Africa. If so, he 
lived in Iserlohn. 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 97 

I met Wessels the same afternoon and a very good artist 
he is, and a very agreeable one. When I told him what I 
had in mind, he asked if I knew that General von Esebeck, 
sometime commander of the 15th Panzer Division in the 
desert, and General von Ravenstein, commander of the 21st, 
both lived in Iserlohn, within five hundred yards of the 
house in which I was staying and within twenty yards of 
each other. 

Apart from having served in two wars against them, I 
have never known many Germans. I had certainly never 
met a German general, except Rommel and that profes- 
sionally and for a few seconds. My prejudice against a 
class which is largely responsible for my having spent ten 
years of my life in a sterile and unremunerative occupation 
is at least as strong as most people's. Nevertheless, I must 
admit that I found both of them congenial. 

General von Esebeck, a quiet, elderly man, living alone in 
a small bed-sitting-room on the top floor, with seventeenth 
and eighteenth century paintings of his ancestors round the 
walls, was a pathetic figure, I thought, a military Mr. Chips. 
Wounded in the face by a bomb splinter near Tobruk in 
1941 and sent, on his recovery, to the Russian front, he was 
arrested on suspicion after July 20th, 1 944, and thrown into 
a concentration camp. Lucky to be alive? Perhaps, if a 
general, frail and prematurely aged, with no pension and 
no possible career or interests outside the army, is lucky to 
be alive in Germany to-day. 

General von Ravenstein, across the road, was a horse 
from the same sort of aristocratic stable, but one of a very 
different colour and in very different condition. A lean, 
good-looking Guards officer, who seemed much younger 
than fifty-odd. If one had seen him, quietly dressed in his 
good blue suit and well-polished shoes, a pearl pin in his tie, 
strolling into the Guards Club or the Cavalry Club in Lon- 
don, one would have placed him at once as a young and 
successful general. After two disastrous wars, he seemed 

R. D 



98 



ROMMEL 



physically and mentally quite fit enough to command in 
another. In both he did well. In June, 1918, eighteen 
months after Rommel, he was given the Pour le Merite 
for gallantry in action. Between the wars he retired and 
became, of all things, head of a news agency in Duisburg, 
until he was thrown out by the Nazis. Rejoining the army 
as a colonel in 1939, he commanded a panzer unit in 
Poland. Then, having fought in Bulgaria and Greece in 
March and April, 1941, he came out to the desert to com- 
mand a panzer regiment of 21st Panzer Division. He took 
over the division before the Halfaya Pass-Sollum battle in 
June. 

It was von Raveristein who led Rommel's famous break- 
through on November 24th-25th, 1941. His career in the 
desert came to an abrupt end when, at first light on Novem- 
ber 28th, he inadvertently drove into the middle of the New 
Zealand Division. " It was terrible," he told mc, " because 
I had on me the Chief of Staffs map with all our disposi- 
tions and had no time to destroy it. When I saw that there 
was no way out, I determined to call myself Colonel 
Schmidt and hoped that they would not notice my rank 
badges. But then I was taken up to General Freyberg. You 
know how we Germans mention our name when we are 
introduced? I clicked my heels and bowed and before I 
could stop myself I had blurted out, 'von Ravenstein, 
General'!" 

General von Ravenstein eventually reached Canada. On 
the way, he organised an attempt, which might easily have 
been successful, to seize the ship. It was discovered at the 
last moment by the captain. As an ex-P.O.W., in charge for 
some time of escaping, in a prison-camp, I gave him full 
marks for it. Though only repatriated in 1948, General von 
Ravenstein has no complaints. He could not have been 
better treated After the war, he was allowed almost com- 
plete freedoms, " No shortages there," he said. " I can still 
give you a good Havana cigar : I have a few boxes left." 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



99 



Now, though he has to share it with two other families, he 
lives in comfort in his own house in Iserlohn. He has some 
good pieces of furniture and his ancestral portraits also 
hang on the walls. His wife, a charming Portuguese countess, 
who speaks even belter English and French than he does 
himself, is with him. He also has a job. He is once again 
head of his news agency in Duisburg. All things considered, 
General von Ravenstein has not fared too badly. Since he 
gave 4th Indian Division (and myself) a very uncomfortable 
time in Sidi Omar just before he was captured, I propose to 
send him a photograph we took, during his unsuccessful 
attack on us, of seven of his tanks in flames. 

General Fritz Bayerlein, whom I met in more orthodox 
fashion through the good ofiices of the U.S. Historical Sec- 
tion at Frankfurt, is something else again. A stocky, tough 
little terrier of a man, full of energy and enthusiasm, he is 
still only fifty. In the first war he fought, from the age of 
sixteen, as a private soldier against the British. He took part 
in the German attacks round Kemmel in March, 1918, and 
in the decisive battles on the Sonnne and about Bapaume 
and Gambrai in the summer. After the war, he had at first 
no intention of soldiering. For lack of anything better to 
do, he rejoined the army in 1921. He was at the Staff 
College from 1932 to 1935, after which he was posted to 
panzer troops. 

Probably no one on either side, except Rommel himself, 
saw more continuous active service in the Western Desert 
than Fritz Bayerlein. He came over to Africa from 
Guderian's Panzer Army in Russia in October, 1941, and 
left only in May, 1 943, when he was wounded and flown out 
just before the end. Those nineteen months were months of 
almost incessant fighting. He was Chief Staff Officer to the 
Afrika Korps until May, 1942, when General Garni was 
wounded and he became acting Chief of Staff to Rommel 
himself. (Rommel had come out as commander of the 
Afrika Korps only but was given command of Panzer 



100 ROMMEL 

Gruppe Afrika s which included two Italian corps, in the 
summer of 1941.) This appointment he held until the end, 
except for five hectic weeks after the capture of General von 
Thoma at El Alamein, when he commanded the Afrika 
Korps during the retreat. 

Obviously there could be no better authority on the North 
African campaigns. Yet, as he unfolded, in a hut in the 
U.S. Interrogation Centre at Ober Ursel, the familiar map 
of the desert from Agedabia to Alamein, he told me that this 
was the first time that he had been asked about Africa and 
that I was the first British officer he had met who had served 
there. He was also an authority on Rommel. Not only had 
he lived with him all those months at close quarters; he had 
previously known him at the Infantry School at Dresden 
from 1930 to 1933. We spent a long day together, with a 
great many "Do you remember's ?" I apologise for liking 
German generals. I suppose I ought not to do so. But at 
the end of it I liked General Bayerlein. From these three 
first and from others later, I heard the German side of the 
story. 

■ 

At the beginning of this book I mentioned that General 
Wavell or his staff made a miscalculation in a time and 
space problem when they assumed that Rommel would not 
be able to attack, in the spring of 1941, as early as he did. 
The error did not add to the popularity of G.H.Q. There is 
more excuse for our Intelligence Staff when we know that 
Rommel surprised not only them, but also his superiors in 
Berlin. He attacked on March 31st. It was only on March 
21st that he was told by the Army Command to prepare a 
plan for the reconquest of Cyrenaica and to submit it for 
consideration not later than April 20th. It was to be a 
prudent plan. In the face of substantial British forces, he 
was not to go beyond Agedabia until 15th Panzer Division 
arrived. Haider and his staff would doubtless have spent a 
week or two in examining it with critical and unfriendly 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



101 



eyes. They never had the chance. Nine days before they 
were due to receive it, Rommel had already reconquered 
Cyrenaica, with the exception of Tobruk, and reached the 
I Egyptian frontier. He had done much more than he would 
s have been allowed to attempt had he waited for permission. 
Even his Fiihrer was ignored. On April 3rd, Hitler tele- 
graphed to him telling him to be careful and not to launch 
any large-scale attack without waiting for 15th Panzer Divi- 
sion. In particular he must not expose his flank by turning 
^up to Benghazi. The last part of the order could safely be 
disregarded for Benghazi was evacuated the day the tele- 
gram was sent. As for 1 5th Panzer Division, it was already 
.landing in Tripoli and could thus be said to have " arrived." 

" It is my belief," writes a very capable officer who was 
serving with Intelligence in Cairo at the time, 11 that an 
ordinary military appreciation was made, taking into con- 
sideration the strength of both sides, time and space and all 
the usual factors. Academically speaking, it was a good 
appreciation as RommeFs attack should not have succeeded. 
Unfortunately for us, he gambled and won. By the book, he 
shouldn't have attacked so soon. . . ." Colonel-General 
Haider would doubtless have agreed. 

The same view is taken by Brigadier Williams, afterwards 
General Montgomery's chief Intelligence officer but then a 
v*-jop leader in the King's Dragoon Guards, the "recce" 
(reconnaissance) regiment of 2nd Armoured Division. "I 
think personally," he says, " that Rommel began by edging 
up and found it easy to capture Agheila (that I remember 
well, because I was in the fort when it was captured and had 
to make a quick * get-away '), and that, after that, a well- 
planned reconnaissance developed into a successful offen- 
sive. . . . Certainly Rommel should not have dared to attack 
us as soon as he did. . . ." 

Such was the first appearance of Rommel on the desert 
stage. The speed with which he overran Cyrenaica was im- 
pressive, even to professionals. It impressed still more pain- 



102 



ROMMEL 



fully the public which measured gains by the map. Yet 
ground in the desert meant little. It should have been 
thought of in terms of sea and not of land battles. Once the 
enemy armour was out of action, the winning tank fleet 
could cruise across it as far and as fast as its petrol and tracks 
would allow. What was much more alarming was the vastly 
superior quality of the German armour. This superiority 
lasted until the arrival of the Sherman tank, before El 
Alamcin. It was never appreciated either by our General 
Staff or by the Cabinet, who always thought that quantity 
could make up for deficiency in quality. In the desert, at 
least, this theory did not work. Rommel handled his tiny 
force with remarkable boldness and skill. His greater ex- 
perience was, indeed, bound to tell. He had already led an 
armoured division in action and a week of war is worth six 
months of manoeuvres. He was opposed to inexperienced 
troops and to commanders who had never seen even 
manoeuvres on any sufficient scale, because of our lack of 
tanks. In a word, he knew more about the business. So did 
his tank crews. Nevertheless, "With better weapons they 
were bound to beat us." " I do not believe that he could have 
been easily stopped," says Brigadier Williams. " We had 
only 2-pounder anti-tank guns and a lot of worn-out tanks." 
Even had they been new, they were not in the same class 
as the German panzers. 

In the field of strategy Rommel met his match in General 
Wavcll. The decision to hold Tobruk was a bold one in the 
circumstances, but " the active defence of its garrison con- 
stituted a menace to the enemy's line of communications, 
which was likely to prevent his advance." In fact it did so — 
and probably saved Egypt. Rommel always spoke of Wavell 
to his son as a commander of the highest order, " a military 
genius." In his library amongst many presentation volumes, 
about North Africa by Frobenius and others with uncut 
pages I found a well-thumbed copy, in the German trans- 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



103 



lation, of WaveU's pamphlet on the art of generalship, Der 
Feldherr, von General St. A. Wavell (Zurich, 1942). 

It was because Rommel also appreciated the importance 
of Tobruk that he launched a full-dress attack against it 
on May 1st, as soon as he had been reinforced by 15th 
Panzer Division. According to Aldinger, although the 
Italians possessed the complete defence plans, which they 
had themselves prepared, they denied having them and did 
not hand them over. However that may be, 9th Australian 
Division was not to be overawed by Rommel or any one 
else. This sort of fighting, where what counted was the 
tenacity and initiative of sections and individuals, was what 
Australians were best at. Rommel got " a poke in the nose " 
and was severely repulsed, with heavy losses in men and 
tanks. The Army Command profited by the reverse to 
remind him that " possession of Cyrenaica, with or without 
Tobruk, Solium and Bardia is the primary task of the Afrika 
Korps " and that a continuance of the advance into Egypt 
was of secondary importance. 

In the middle of May, before a consignment of new tanks 
from England could be unloaded, General Wavell thought 
he saw " a fleeting opportunity of attacking the enemy for- 
ward troops on the Egyptian border near Solium in favour- 
able circumstances." In a limited operation by a small 
;; j .amber of Cruiser and " I " tanks, Solium and Capuzzo 
were captured. Next day Rommel brought up his own 
armour in force and compelled them to retire. On May 27th 
he pushed us off the Halfaya Pass, the only place, apart 
from Solium itself, where tanks can climb the 200 ft. escarp- 
ment which runs for fifty miles south-east into the desert 

General Wavell was still bent on recovering Cyrenaica, at 
least as far as Tobruk. Moreover, he was " being urged to 
attack with the least possible delay," and H is not hard to 
guess who was prodding him from London. He now had 
enough new tanks to re-equip 7th Armoured Division, which 



104 



ROMMEL 



had been out of the line as a division since the victory over 
Graziani. The division had been so short of equipment that 
it had neither the tanks nor the wireless sets to continue its 
training. Some of the new tanks were of a pattern that had 
never been seen in the Middle East; many of them required 
overhaul; all of them had to have sand filters and desert 
camouflage. " The crews were as strange to each other as 
they were to their machines." 

It was estimated that the Germans had 220 medium tanks 
and 70 light tanks against our total of approximately 200. 
The decision to attack was, therefore, a bold one, to say the 
least of it. Moreover, General Wavell had to try to combine 
two armoured brigades, one equipped with Cruiser tanks 
with a speed of 15-20 m.p.h. and a radius of action of 80-100 
miles, the other with " I " tanks with a speed of 5 m.p.h. 
and a radius of action, without refuelling, of only 40 miles. 
It was like putting a man and a small boy, three-legged, into 
a hundred yards sprint. On top of all this, the Germans 
had something up their sleeve. This was the 88 mm. dual- 
purpose gun. An anti-aircraft high-velocity gun which 
could be used in an anti-tank role with armour-piercing 
ammunition, it could go through all our tanks like butter. 
Rommel's record of the Ghost Division definitely states that 
it was used against British tanks near Arras. British infor- 
mation is equally definite that it was not and that we first 
ran up against it on June 16th, 1941, in the Western Desert. 
At any rate it was a most alarming weapon and remained 
a bogey to tank commanders and others until the end of 
the war. 

In the event, " Operation Battleaxe," after some initial 
success, was a dismal failure, in which we lost just on a 
hundred tanks. At the time, some of us, without any tanks 
at all and with no air-cover, were being chased about Syria 
by the tanks and aircraft of the Vichy French. We were 
naturally resentful when we heard that six fighter rquadrom, 
four bomber squadrons and two hundred tanks had been 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



105 



employed in what seemed a completely futile operation. It 
was interesting, therefore, to be told by General von Ese- 
beck, by General von Ravenstein and by Aldinger, indepen- 
dently, that our offensive was taken very seriously by Rom- 
mel, and regarded as highly dangerous. General von 
Ravenstein thinks we made a mistake in trying to attack 
" the one strong point," llalfaya Pass, particularly with 
tanks, and that our turning-movement round the southern 
end of the escarpment should have been much wider. Had 
we known about the 88 mm. guns dug in there, we should 
probably have left llalfaya alone; it was the mixed nature 
of our tanks which made it necessary for the " I " tanks of 
4th Armoured Brigade, with their limited range, to turn 
sharply north to Gapuzzo, while the rest of 7th Armoured 
Division ranged farther afield on their flank. At least it is 
satisfactory to know that " Battleaxe " caused the enemy 
some anxiety. 

From Aldinger I heard a queer story about this period. 
When we went into Syria it will be remembered that the 
French hotly denied that they were helping the Germans. 
They were resisting our advance, they said, merely because 
we were invading French territory. They would equally 
have resisted the Germans or any other invader. Having 
had my truck shot to pieces outside Mczze, near Damascus, 
'• spent three days as a prisoner and heard this explanation 
given with great vigour and apparent sincerity by various 
staff officers at French headquarters. What the truth was, I 
never discovered. The French had, we were told, refuelled 
German aircraft on their way to Iraq to support Rashid Ali's 
rebellion : it did not appear at the time that there had ever 
been more than a few Germans in plain clothes in Damascus 
or Beirut. Aldinger's story was that, just before or just after 
" Baaleaxe," a French aircraft from Syria landed at Bardia, 
that the French officer pilot was brought immediately to 
Rommel, that he spent more than an hour with him and 
then took off again. If this is so, and Aldinger is positive, he 



106 



ROMMEL 



presumably came from General Dentz, Commander of the 
Vichy French. 

'Die rest of the summer passed quietly, with both sides 
trying to build up. Here Rommel was at a disadvantage. 
The eyes of the German High Command were fixed upon 
Russia and there was no interest in North Africa, Ultimately 
there might have to be an offensive against the Suez Canal 
and even against Iran. This, however, could wait until after 
the defeat of Russia. It would then be opened through 
Anatolia and the Caucasus. The German army in Libya 
would play only a supporting part and no new divisions 
need be expected. Meanwhile, since nothing could be done 
about his supplies without an operation against Malta, Rom- 
mel must restrict himself to planning the capture of Tobruk. 
If it fell, he was not to advance into Egypt but to stop at 
Solium. If the attack failed, he must be prepared to retire 
to Gazala. 

Rommel has often been rated, both by British and by 
German experts, as a mere military opportunist, a tactician 
who was not qualified to have any opinions about strategy. 
That he was a master of " grand tactics " rather than of 
strategy is probably true. Yet if he were unable to compre- 
hend the broad principles of strategy, it is surprising that 
he should have been employed as an instructor at Potsdam. 
It is still more surprising that he should have learnt nothing 
of them during the years he was there. 

In this case, he showed a clearer appreciation than most 
of the professional strategists. The plan which he put for- 
ward officially in July, 1941, for the capture of the Suez 
Canal has already been mentioned. General von Ravenstein 
tells me that his ideas in fact went very much further. This 
advance was to be only the prelude to a further advance to 
Basra, with the object of stopping the flow of American 
supplies to Russia through the Persian Gulf. Rommel's own 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



107 



supplies, after the first phase, were to be assured through 
Syria, though he thought that Turkey might be induced to 
come in on the German side if all went well l>oth in Russia 
and North Africa. Alternatively, she might be attacked and 
collapse. 

Before any one dismisses such a scheme as fantastic, as 
did the German Army Command, who had only seen the 
first part of it, he should read General Auchinleck's dispatch 
(38177), covering events in the Middle East from November 
1st, 1941 to August 15th, 1942. He will then see how much 
we had with which to hold Syria, after the Vichy French 
had capitulated; how much we had in Iraq and Iran; how 
easily Cyprus could have been captured by airborne troops 
at any time before the late summer of 1 942 and what a con- 
stant preoccupation to him was his northern flank. His 
fear was, admittedly, an attack through the Caucasus. But, 
whichever way the attack came, we were too thin on the 
ground to meet it, had it been made in force. It is also 
relevant to remember the figures of American supplies which 
actually reached Russia through the Persian Gulf. 

As for Malta, Rommel continually told his staff (and, 
later, his family) that he could not understand what on earth 
the High Command were about not to take it. This, he 
thought, could easily have been done at any time during 
Ciie summer of 1941 with smoke and airborne troops. Since 
35 per cent of his supplies and reinforcements were sunk in 
August and 63 per cent in October, he had a personal in- 
terest in the matter. Yet it was not until the end of 1941, 
when sinkings had risen to something like 75 per cent, that 
the High Command woke up to the importance of Malta 
for the command of the Mediterranean. They then sent 
U-boats and light surface craft and reinforced the Luftwaffe 
in Sicily. The result was that, by early 1 942, when Rommel 
had planned to launch his offensive, they virtually con- 
trolled the Central Mediterranean. (A share of khe credit is 



108 



ROMMEL 



also due to the young Italians who made their way into the 
harbour of Alexandria and sank the only two British battle- 
ships, Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, at their moorings.) 

By that time they had left it too late to reinforce Rommel 
with the extra German divisions for which he had asked. 
Nor, indeed, do they appear ever to have had any idea of 
doing so. And although they had neutralised Malta and, as 
Kesselring thought, " eliminated it as a naval base," they 
had made no attempt to capture it. It was not until the end 
of April, 1942, under pressure from Admiral Raeder and 
after a discussion with Mussolini, that Hitler gave permis- 
sion for a surprise attack on the island with German and 
Italian paratroops at the beginning of June. (Operation 
Hercules.) " Even though the postponement of the Malta 
operation is not a welcome move," wrote the German naval 
representative at the meeting, " nevertheless I am glad to see 
the increased interest displayed by the Fiihrer in this impor- 
tant area. . . . The whole business is now assuming impor- 
tance after having been regarded hitherto as a subsidiary 
matter in which victories were looked upon as gifts from 
Heaven but in which nobody bothered to do anything 
seriously for c the Italian theatre of war.' " 

The attack was twice put off. At the beginning of July, 
the last minute of the eleventh hour, Hitler finally postponed 
Operation Hercules until after the conquest of Egypt. He 
did not consult either the Italians or his own naval com- 
mand. It is possible that he consulted Keitel and Jodi. 

Even in the early summer of 1941, the senior officers of 
the Afrika Korps, fresh from their first victory, felt that 
North Africa was regarded by the High Command as a 
side-show, no more than " picking the chestnuts out of the 
fire for the Italians." There was, for example, the matter 
of air support. Why could they not have a few extra fighter 
squadrons ? " I remember Field-Marshal Milch of the Luft- 
waffe commjef over to inspect in May, 1941," said General 
von Esebeck. " We all prayed that the R.A.F. would favour 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 109 

us with a good heavy raid while he was there. Fortunately 
the R.A.F. obliged. General Milch was wearing a beautiful 
white uniform. I could not have been more delighted than 
when I saw him dive into a slit trench. When he came out, 
I was even more pleased to see that it was the trench into 
which the servants had thrown the refuse from the kitchen." 

With or without encouragement from the Army Com- 
mand Rommel was determined to attack. The first objective 
was clearly Tobruk. " Our freedom from embarrassment in 
the frontier area for four and a half months/' wrote General 
Auchinleck, " is to be ascribed largely to the defenders of 
Tobruk. Behaving, not as a hardly pressed garrison but as 
a spirited force ready at any moment to launch an attack, 
they contained an enemy force twice their strength. By 
keeping the enemy continually in a high state of tension, 
they held back four Italian divisions and three German bat- 
talions from the frontier area from April until November." 
General Wavcll's decision, made in the confusion of a swift 
and losing battle, had paid off. There could be no advance 
into Egypt so long as Tobruk held out. 

Permission to attack even Tobruk was not, however, easily 
obtained. Rommel wanted to reduce it in October or 
November. Hitler, Jodl and Keitel were against his making 
the attempt until January, 1942. They did not want to stir 
*r.p anything in North Africa while their hands were full in 
Russia. The Italians, whose intelligence, from their agents 
in Cairo and Alexandria, was better than that of the Ger- 
mans, knew of General Auchinleck's coming offensive. They, 
too, opposed any move by Rommel, nominally under their 
command. The Luftwaffe produced aerial photographs of 
the railway which was being pushed forward west of 
Matruh. General von Ravenstein was present when Rom- 
mel threw them on the ground. " I will not look at them," 
he exclaimed petulantly. Then came a report from Admiral 
Ganaris. A British soldier in hospital in Jerusalem had told 
the nursing sister, a German agent, that the British were 



110 



ROMMEL 



soon going to launch a big attack upon Rommel. On the 
strength of this, Hitler and Jodl told Rommel that he had 
better keep quiet, leave Tobruk alone and get ready to meet 
Auchinleck's attack. (It does not seem to have occurred 
to them that it would be twice as hard to counter if Tobruk 
remained in British hands.) 

Rommel was determined to take Tobruk. He would not 
accept the order and flew off with von Ravenstcin to Rome 
to dispute it. Von Ravenstein was in the office of Rintclen, 
the German liaison officer with the Italians, when Rommel 
* l blew his top." Having called the unfortunate Rintelen a 
coward and " a friend of the Italians," he seized the tele- 
phone and got on to Jodl himself. " I hear that you wish 
me to give up the attack on Tobruk," he said. " I am com- 
pletely disgusted." Jodl mentioned the British offensive. 
Rommel said that he would put 21st Panzer Division, whose 
commander he had with him in the office, to hold it off 
while the attack on Tobruk was in progress. Jodl played 
for safety. " Can you guarantee," Rommel reported him as 
saying, "that there is no danger?" " I will give you my 
personal guarantee ! " shouted Rommel. Thereupon Jodl, 
having covered himself, gave in. 

The attack was fixed for November 23rd. Everything was 
already " laid on " for it and as Countess von Ravenstein 
and Frau Rommel had joined them, Rommel decided to 
remain in Rome for his birthday, November 15th. The 
ladies went sight-seeing. Von Ravenstein remembers that 
they came back to the Hotel Eden for luncheon, full of the 
wonders of St. Peter's. Rommel listened for some time in 
silence. Then he joined in the conversation. " You know, 
von Ravenstein," he said, " I have been thinking again 
about what we ought to do with those infantry batta- 
lions ..." 

Rommel saw none of the sights of Rome. He did, how- 
ever, by invitation of the Italian command, see, on his birth- 
day, the' film On from Benghazi, which depicted the 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 111 

advance of the previous April. It showed the victorious 
Italians attacking with the bayonet. It showed some very 
scruffy British officers, played by Italian " bit players," run- 
ning in panic before them ; it did not show a single German 
soldier in action. "Very interesting and instructive," said 
Rommel to his hosts, " I often wondered what happened in 
that battle." 

The story has been told how it was only Rommel's ab- 
sence from his headquarters at Beda Littoria, near Gyrene, 
which saved him from death or capture. In brief, a British 
commando party under Major Geoffrey Keyes was landed 
from a submarine. It was met and guided by a very gallant 
officer, John Haseldon, afterwards killed. Disguised as an 
Arab, he had been living behind the enemy lines. "The 
first building on the right as you enter the village from 
Cyrene," says Major Kennedy-Shaw in Long-Range Desert 
Group, " is a grain silo, then comes a row of bungalows, 
then, standing back from the road amongst the cypresses, a 
larger, two-storied building, dark and rather gloomy. In 
this house, in 1941, lived Rommel ... At midnight, Keyes 
and the two men with him, Campbell and Terry, were at the 
front door, loudly demanding admission in German. The 
sentry opened to them but when they were inside, showed 
fight and was overpowered. At the noise, two officers 
^•appeared on the stairs and were shot down. All the lights 
in the house were then extinguished and silence fell. Keyes 
started to search the ground floor rooms first. The first was 
empty but from the darkness of the second came a burst of 
fire and Keyes fell, mortally wounded. Campbell was also 
hit and taken prisoner but Terry got away. Major Keyes 
(who was awarded a posthumous V.C.) is buried at Beda 
Littoria on a hill a mile south of the village, with four 
Germans." 

Rommel was in Rome. In any case he would not have 
been caught in the gloomy house amongst the cypresses. 
These were not his headquarters but the headquarters of his 



112 



ROMMEL 



"Q" staff, under Lieut.-Colonel Otto. His own head- 
quarters were in the desert west of Derna. He came some- 
times to Beda Littoria but never stayed the night there. John 
Hascldon's information was wrong; the Arabs had either 
seen Rommel there by day or had confused him with some- 
one else. Geoffrey Keyes fell mortally wounded but he was 
picked up dead nearly a mile away. With one foot shot off 
and badly wounded in the other, he had managed to crawl 
off into the night. " A very brave man," said Aldingcr, who 
told me the story from the German side. 



II. "OPERATION CRUSADER" 

If we did not surprise Rommel in his headquarters, the 
opening of General Auchinleck's offensive took him and his 
troops completely by surprise. When our armoured brigades, 
with their armoured car screen far in front, swept across the 
frontier wire at dawn on November 18th, they drove 
through empty desert to their battle positions on the Trigh- 
el-Abd. 

" Operation Crusader " was the first battle of the Eighth 
Army. It opened with high hopes. Mr. Churchill even ex- 
pected a victory comparable with Blenheim or Waterloo. ; 
Unfortunately, he said so. Because these hopes were not 
fully realised and were soon obscured in the fog of subse- 
quent failure, few, outside the Eighth Army itself, ever knew 
how near it came to complete success. Because only final 
results count, fewer still can have taken the trouble to com- 
pare the figures with those of the Battle of El Alamein. Of 
a total enemy strength of 100,000, 60,000, including 21,000 
Germans, were killed, wounded or captured in Operation 
Crusader. The Eighth Army, 118,000 strong, lost 18,000 
officers and men. At El Alamein, 150,000 of the Eighth 
Army faced 96,000 Germans and Italians and killed, 
wounded or captured 59,000 of them, including 34,000 




GO 
P 

w 

01 
H 

m 
w 

CO 

w 

Pi 

w 

H 

GO 

w 



114 ROMMEL 

Germans. The Eighth Army losses were 13 3 500. In Novem- 
ber, 1941, we went into action with 455 tanks against Rom- 
mel's 412. At El Alamein, General Montgomery had 1114, 
against between 500 and 600, more than half Italian. 
Figures, however, do not tell the whole story. Of General 
Montgomery's 1114 tanks, 1 28 were Grants and 267 Sher- 
mans, with 75 mm. guns in completely revolving turrets, all 
brand new. In November, 1941, we had not a tank that was 
fit to fight the German Mark Ills and Mark IVs, Before 
our tanks, mechanically unreliable and anncd with their 
pitiful 2-pounder gun, could even begin hitting the enemy 
tanks effectively, they had to close them by 800 yards. While 
they were doing so, they were all the time under fire of 
50 mm. (4-pounders) and 75 mm., against which their 
armour was no defence. We had no effective anti-tank gun 
at all. 

Why, then, did General Auchinleck attack with one and a 
half armoured divisions instead of the three he himself con- 
sidered necessary? First, so long as there were strong Axis 
forces in Cyrenaica there was a constant threat to Egypt and 
he could not hope to secure his northern flank against a 
possible German invasion through the Caucasus. Second, 
H.M. Government considered it essential to take the offen- 
sive in North Africa at the earliest possible moment. 
** Possible 99 is an elastic word, especially in London. 

The decision accepted, no fault can be found with the 
general plan. The idea of basing the main force on Girabub 
and striking across the desert via Gialo to cut RommeFs 
communications was rightly turned down. The administra- 
tive difficulties would have been enormous. Moreover, the 
flank of the force would have been exposed, during its ad- 
vance, to incessant air attacks from the coastal airfields in 
the north. These could have been " stepped up 99 at will, by 
reinforcements of the Luftwaffe flying in from Greece and 
Crete. Our own forces, including the R.A.F., would have 
had to be split. It would have been necessary to leave a 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



115 



strong covering force to hold the frontier. Otherwise Rom- 
mel would have turned the tables on us by coming down the 
escarpment and making direct for Alexandria. That was, in 
fact, precisely what he intended to do, had we attacked from 
the south. The thrust by a brigade group at Gialo was, 
therefore, merely the deception. It was effective; General 
Bayerlein told me that that was where they thought the 
main attack would come. 

The plan adopted was to thrust towards Tobruk, while 
feinting from the centre and the south. The first object was 
the destruction of Rommel's armoured forces. The two 
Panzer divisions, 15th and 21st, were the backbone of the 
enemy's army. What was likely to bring them to battle on 
ground of our choosing? Clearly, reasoned General Auchin- 
leck, an obvious move to raise the siege of Tobruk. (The 
relief of Tobruk was, in fact, incidental to the wider object 
of driving Rommel out of Cyrcnaica and, in the next phase, 
out of Tripolitania. By this plan, the garrison would itself 
be able to take part in the action.) Since our tanks were 
inferior to his, we must try to attack his armour with 
superior numbers. In no case must our single armoured 
division be caught by the two panzer divisions together. Sur- 
prise as to time and the direction of the thrust was essential. 

In brief, the main attack was to be delivered by 30th 
Porps under Lieut. -General Willoughby Norrie. Including 
most of the armour (7th Armoured Division and 4th 
Armoured Brigade Group), with two brigades of the 1st 
South African (Infantry) Division and the 22nd Guards 
(Motor) Brigade, it was to concentrate round Gabr Saleh 
and strike north-east or north-west. When it had defeated 
the enemy armour, it was to relieve Tobruk. The garrison 
of Tobruk (70th Infantry Division, an Army Tank Brigade 
and a Polish Brigade Group) was to make a sortie when 
General Norrie considered that the time was ripe. 

Meanwhile 13th Corps, under Lieut.-General Godwin- 
Austen, comprising the New Zealand Division, 4th Indian 



116 



ROMMEL 



Division and 1st Army Tank Brigade, was to pin down and 
cut off the enemy troops holding the frontier defences. It 
was then to advance westwards on Tobruk to help 30th 
Corps. 4th Armoured Brigade of 30th Corps was to protect 
its left flank. 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, below the 
Solium escarpment, and 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, above 
it, were to contain the enemy frontally and cover our base 
and railhead. 

Rommers force was one-third German and two-thirds 
Italian. It consisted of three armoured, two motorised and 

■ 

five infantry divisions. The two German panzer divisions, 
15th and 21st, and the 90th Light (Infantry) Division, 
formed the Panzer Group, Afrika. 21st Panzer Division was 
twelve miles south of Gambut, across the Trigh Capuzzo. 
15th Panzer Division, with 90th Light, was concentrated 
round El Adem, El Duda and Sidi Rezcgh. 2 1 st Corps, con- 
sisting of four Italian infantry divisions, stiffened by three 
German infantry battalions, was besieging Tobruk. The 
Italian armoured Division (Aricte) was at El Gubi, with its 
guns dug in. The motorised division (Trieste) was at Bir 
I lacheim. The frontier defences at Halfaya, Solium, and 
Capuzzo were manned by German infantry battalions. Sidi 
and Libyan Omar were held by the Savona Division, with 
some German guns. Bardia had a mixed garrison of German 
and Italians. 

■ 

The preparations for the offensive were elaborate. The 
railway line was pushed forward 75 miles west of Matruh. 
A pipeline was built from Alexandria and a water-point 
opened ten miles behind the railhead. Nearly 30,000 tons 
of munitions, fuel and supplies were stored in the forward 
area before the battle opened. (This was sufficient to cover 
the difference between the daily rates of delivery and con- 
sumption for one week at most !) The Roval Navy and the 
R.A.F. for many weeks continually attacked the enemy's 
supply lines by sea and air. Thanks to the R.A.F. and the 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



117 



Long Range Desert Group, General Cunningham, com- 
manding Eighth Army, had almost exact information about 
the enemy's dispositions and order of battle. Thanks to the 
R.A.F. and to first-class administration, camouflage and 
" security," the enemy knew nothing of ours. The essential 
surprise was achieved. 

The battle that ensued was desperately fought by both 
sides. On ours there was an exhilaration, a will to victory 
that I had not seen equalled since the final battles at the 
end of the first war. " Give me another . . . tank," I remem- 
ber a wounded Scottish sergeant shouting as he leaned out 
and pointed to his gun, the muzzle drooping like a stick of 
chewed celery from a direct hit. " Mon, we're doing all 
right up there; we're giving the b s hell !" This a hun- 
dred yards from the truck of General Willoughby Norrie, 
commanding 30th Corps, who had just mislaid the whole 
of his Main Headquarters but remarked that there was a 
lot to be said for fighting a battle with only an A.D.C. : it 
saved so much paper. (About the same time, the entire 
headquarter; of the Afrika Korps had been captured by the 
New Zealanders.) 

It was a real soldier's battle, a " proper dog-fight," like 
those great aerial mix-ups which we used to watch over the 
lines in 1918. It was fought at such speed, with such swiftly- 
ciianging fortune, under such a cloud of smoke from burst- 
ing shell and burning tanks, such columns of dust from 
careering transport, in such confusion of conflicting reports, 
that no one knew what was happening a mile away. Even 
to-day it is hard to follow from maps which show the situa- 
tion, hour by hour. Occasionally, out of the murk, would 
emerge some heroic figure like " Jock " Campbell, leading 
his tanks at Sidi Rezegh in an open car, winning his V.C. . 
half a dozen times over. There were hundreds more whose 
exploits were unrecorded. How many have ever heard how 
Major-General Dennis Reid, commanding the Indian Bri- 



118 



ROM MEL 



gade Group from Girabub, took Gialo by walking alone into 
the fort and holding up with his pistol sixty Italian officers 
at dinner? 

The heart of the battle was Sidi Rczegh, the key to 
Tobruk. Here was the hardest fighting of all, tank against 
tank, man against man. The " high-spot " was, however, 
Rommel's dramatic dash with his armour across the frontier 
wire at Bir Shofcrzen on the afternoon of November 24th, 
Alan Moorehead has vividly described, in A Year of Battle, 
this raid on our back areas and the resulting stampede of 
thousands of soft-skinned vehicles over the desert, like a 
shoal of mackerel before a shark. 

Why did Rommel suddenly abandon the main battle and 
rush eastward with his armour? Had he any plan or was he 
merely " stirring up the pot " ? Was his move a master- 
stroke or a desperate gamble? Major-Genera\ Fuller and 
Lieut-General Sir Giffard Martel, amongst others, have 
argued the question and reached opposite conclusions. The 
answer is essential to any appraisement of Rommel as a 
commander. Again, why, when they passed within a mile 
or two of them, did his tanks not pause to set fire to our two 
main supply dumps, F.S.D. 63, fifteen miles south-east of 
Bir Gubi and F.S.D. 65, fifteen miles south-east of Gabr 
Saleh ? Without them, the New Zealand Division could not 
have been maintained. Without them, 30th Corps would 
have had to retire from Sidi Rezegh. There was only the 
Guards Brigade to protect them. 

The second questions can be answered first, because the 
answer is easy. Though the dumps were each six miles 
square, the Germans did not know that they were there. 
"God in Heaven!" said General Bayerlcin, "you don't 
mean to tell me that ?" General von Ravenstein was equally 
shaken. " And to think," he said, " that I saw and identified 
the Guards Brigade and never bothered to wonder what 
they were doing there ! I don't think I even fired on them." 
Both of them returned to the subject, in the same words. 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 119 

"If we had known about those dumps, we could have won 
the battle." They could, indeed, and whoever was respon- 
sible for the concealment and camouflage of those huge 
quantities of petrol, water and stores can take some belated 
credit to himself. So can the R.A.F., for keeping the German 
reconnaissance aircraft away from the area. 

As to the larger question, General Baycrlein knew exactly 
what Rommel had in mind. He still meant to take Tobruk 
but he could not do so while he was himself being attacked. 
If he turned on 70th Division, it would merely withdraw 
into the perimeter. The advance of the New Zealand Divi- 
sion along the Trigh Capuzzo had come as an unpleasant 
surprise to him. If he concentrated all his force against it, 
he could doubtless destroy it and open up the road to his 
frontier positions again. But that would give time to what 
was left of 7th Armoured Division to refit. Meanwhile there 
was 70th Division on his flank. If he turned on 7th 
Armoured Division, south-east of Sidi Rezegh (as General 
Martel thinks he should have done), then the New Zealand 
Division would join up with 70th Division. If he played 
safe and retired to Gazala, it would mean abandoning the 
frontier garrisons, the stores there and his own dumps along 
the coast. His strength lay in his two panzer divisions. Was 
there any way in which he could use them, not merely to get 
lamself out of an awkward situation or to pursue a ding- 
dong battle, but to recover the initiative and turn defeat into 
victory at one stroke? Yes, he decided — to thrust suddenly 
eastwards into our back areas and so disrupt our communi- 
cations that General Cunningham would be glad to call the 
battle off and withdraw from whence he came. He would 
then deal with Tobruk, a few days later than he had 
intended. 

"You have the chance of ending this campaign to- 
night !" he told General von Ravcnstein, who was to lead 
the attack with 21st Panzer Division, when he gave him his 
ordem They were to push straight through to the frontier 



120 



ROMMEL 



wire and beyond, " looking neither to right nor left " and 
then turn up nortli to the sea by Solium. Meanwhile a 
" combat group " of one motorised Battalion with one com- 
pany of tanks was to attack General Cunningham's head- 
quarters at Maddalcna. Another combat group from 15th 
Panzer Division was to follow up, go down the escarpment 
and capture the railhead at Bir Habata, where there were 
large stocks of petrol. If, as Rommel rightly suspected, there 
was nothing much between the escarpment and Alexandria, 
then 21st Panzer Division should join it and make at least 
a rapid raid into Egypt. By that time such alarm and con- 
fusion ought to have been caused ihat Eighth Army would 
be coming helter-skelter back to its original positions. (There 
was, in fact, one brigade of the 4th Indian Division behind 
a large minefield at the foot of the escarpment. After that, 
there was nothing but the barely trained and badly- 
equipped 2nd South African Division, which had not yet 
seen a shot fired. Its nearest brigades were at Mersa 
Matruh.) 

No one can say that his was not a bold plan to have con- 
cocted in the middle of a hard-fought battle. Why, then, 
did it fail? The answer is that it succeeded only too well, 
up to a point. On November 23rd, General Cunningham 
already wished to break off the battle. He would un- 
doubtedly have done so next evening had not General 
Auchinleck flown up from Cairo and forbidden him. In a 
letter written at Advanced Eighth Army Headquarters on 
the night of November 24th, General Auchinleck said, after 
examining the dangers of going on with it : " The second 
course is to continue to press our offensive with every means 
in our power. There is no possible doubt that the second 
is the right and only course. The risks involved in it must 
be accepted. You will, therefore, continue to attack the 
enemy relentlessly, using all your resources, even to the last 
tank. . . General Fuller rightly calls it "an outstanding 
example of the influence of generalship on operations.'* 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



121 



Rommel, on the contrary, had to be restrained by a junior 
officer. As usual, he was up in the forward area. About 
noon on November 25th General Ravensteiu, lying behind 
Halfaya with some twenty or thirty tanks left out of his 
original sixty, received orders from Rommel to be ready to 
attack Egypt. At 2 p.m. came a wireless message : " All 
orders given to you hitherto are cancelled. 21st Panzer 
Division is to break through the Indian lines in the direction 
of Bardia." After his two unsuccessful and, it would seem, 
rather unnecessary attacks m the morning and afternoon on 
7th Indian Brigade (and 4th Indian Division H.Q.) behind 
their minefields in Sidi Omar, he was doubtful about being 
able to get through. However, he sent an officer with a 
column of heavy trucks, which he hop^d would be mistaken 
in the darkness for tanks, to " make a hole " between Solium 
and Capuzzo and drove through after them. Next morning, 
the 26th, he was in Bardia. There he found Rommel sitting 
up, sound asleep, in his truck. " General," said von Raven- 
stein, 11 1 am happy to tell you that I am here with my divi- 
sion!" Rommel exploded, "What do you mean, you are 
here?" he demanded. "What are you doing here? Did I 
not give you an order to be ready to attack from Hal fay a in 
the direction of Egypt ?" Von Ravenstein produced his copy 
of the countermanding wireless message. Rommel exploded 
again. " A fake 1" he shouted. " This is an order from the 
British; they must have our code!" 

The message in fact came from Lieut.-Colonel Westphal, 
later a lieutenant-General and Chief-of-Staff to Fields 
Marshal von Rundstedt, but then no more than a Gl (Ops.) 
left behind in charge of the rear headquarters near Tobruk. 
He had seen all the air reports, recognised that Rommel's 
plan of attacking Egypt was impossible to carry out and 
cancelled the order on his own responsibility. Rommel was 
a big enough man to congratulate him afterwards. " You 
did right," he said. " I am very grateful to you." So, it 
appears, was von Ravenstein. 



122 



ROMMEL 



Meanwhile shouts for help were coming from 90th Light 
Division, battling desperately to hold off the New Zealand- 
ers at Sidi Rezegh. During the night of November 26th- 
27th Sidi Rezegh was captured. El Duda had been taken 
by 70th Division that afternoon and, for the first time, the 
Eighth Army and the garrison of Tobruk joined hands. 
(General Godwin-Austen moved the headquarters of 13th 
Corps into Tobruk, whence he is credited with having sent 
the signal " Tobruk and I both relieved.") On November 
27th a wireless intercept told General Ritchie, who had 
replaced General Cunningham, that the two panzer divi- 
sions were hurrying home. 

Thus ended the eastward excursion. In the event, it had 
done little damage, beyond causing alarm and despondency 
in the back areas. (Some truck drivers arc said never to have 
drawn rein — or taken their foot off the accelerator — until 
they reached Cairo. This may be an exaggeration but many 
were still full of running at Mersa Matruh.) Rommel had 
failed to recover the general initiative. As he had lost much 
of his armour, particularly to the artillery of 4th Indian 
Division at Sidi Omar, his last state was worse than his first. 
Nevertheless, General Auchinleck admits that his sudden 
drive '* came as a rude shock." Had it succeeded, military 
historians would have rated it a masterpiece. 

For the Germans as well as for ourselves the break- 
through had moments which are more amusing in retro- 
spect than they were at the time. In the evening of Novem- 
ber 24th, Rommel with General Bayerlein and General 
Cruwell, commanding the Afrika Korps, crossed the frontier 
wire, Rommel driving " Mammut," the Elephant, his British 
armoured command truck, a souvenir of Mechili to which 
he was much attached. It was dark when they tried to turn 
back and they could not find the gap in the wire, which 
marked the gap in the mine belt that guarded it. (I remem- 
ber giving up the attempt to find that gap myself and sleep- 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



123 



ing peacefully in my station-wagon, to discover next 
morning that my two front wheels were in the minefield.) 
Rommel and party slept, perhaps not so peacefully, in the 
middle of Indian troops and slipped out unchallenged at 
first light. 

The previous afternoon Rommel had visited a field hos- 
pital, full of a mixed bag of German and British wounded. 
Walking between the beds, he observed that the hospital was 
still in British hands and that British soldiers were all about. 
It was, indeed, a British medical officer who was conducting 
him round, having mistaken him, or so he imagined, for a 
Polish general. The German wounded goggled at him and 
began to sit up in bed. " I think we'd better get out of 
this," whispered Rommel. As he jumped into " Mammut," 
he acknowledged a final salute. 

General von Ravenstein also told me bow Rommel tried 
to capture wbat he insisted was General Cunningham and 
his staff. " I had had no time to take prisoners," he said. 
" In fact, when I drove through some British units and 
numbers of men, seeing the tanks on top of them, tried to 
surrender, I had to call out, * Go away ! I'm not interested 
in you!' What could I have done with prisoners? Then 
Rommel joined me. On a piece of rising ground east of the 
wire we saw through our glasses a group of staff officers 
with their maps. 'General Cunningham!' said Rommel. 
* Go and take him !' While I was collecting a tank or two he 
became impatient 'Never mind, I'll go and take them 
myself !' Standing up in his car, his sun glasses pushed up 
on his forehead, waving and shouting, be dashed oft' with 
three unarmoured staff cars and about twenty motor- 
bicycles, in a cloud of dust. However, General Cunningham 
(if it was General Cunningham), saw them coming and, 
being unarmed, I suppose, and without an escort, he and 
his staff jumped into their cars and made off." 

(I still cannot find out what became of the "combat 
group " from 15th Panzer Division which was supposed to 



124 



ROMMEL 



attack Maddalena. General Neumann-Silkow, son of a Scot- 
tish mother, then commanding the division, was killed ten 
days later and no one else seems to know. I lad it turned up, 
it would have found Eighth Army Headquarters in a state 
of considerable " flap," busy trying to organise a defence 
force of tanks with scratch crews and no ammunition. An 
essential part of the plan thus miscarried.) 

The dog-fight round Sidi Rezcgh was resumed. Every- 
thing turned on whether 1st Brigade of 1st South African 
Division could get up to the support of the New Zealanders 
in time. The division was new to desert war. Its 5th Brigade 
had been overrun and almost completely destroyed a week 
earlier in a well-conceived and brilliantly executed German 
attack. Major-General "Dan" Pienaar, a foxy, last-war 
veteran, was understandably cautious about moving across 
country and perhaps being caught by enemy armour in the 
open. His advance was slow and hesitating. When 15th and 
21st Panzer Divisions arrived, having fought an action 
against the concentrated tank strength of 7th Armoured 
Division on the way home, General Freyberg was unable 
to hold on. The New Zealanders were driven off Sidi 
Rezegh. By December 1st Tobruk was once again isolated. 
Nevertheless, General Ritchie and General Auchinleck, who 
had joined him at Maddalena, rightly guessed that Rom- 
mel's bolt was shot. They resolved to give him no rest. In 
fact, he made two more efforts. In an attempt to reach his 
frontier garrisons, he sent two strong armoured columns 
eastward, one along the coast road, the other along the 
Trigh Capuzzo. Both were defeated, the first by 5th New 
Zealand Brigade, the second by 5th Indian Brigade. Next 
morning, December 4th, he launched a heavy attack on the 
Tobruk salient. Backed by 88 mm. guns brought up to close 
range, it was very nearly successful. Had it been resumed 
next day, it might have been completely so, for deep pene- 
trations had been made into our positions. But that night 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 



125 



Rommel, knowing that the Eighth Army was about to 
attack him again, began to withdraw. 

The withdrawal was never a rout. Aided by a surprisingly 
gallant defence of El Gubi by the Italians, it became a fight- 
ing retreat, conducted by easy stages. Behind a screen of 
anti-tank guns, the German armour was handled with great 
skill and resisted all attempts to outflank and roll up the 
main force. When an opportunity offered, it struck back. I 
still remember that grey December afternoon, the 15th, 
when I stood by 5th Indian Brigade truck near Alam Haza 
and heard the last telephone message come through from 
the CO. of The Buffs as his battalion was overrun by Ger- 
man tanks. For all that, Rommel was gradually forced out 
of every position in which he tried to stand. Now greatly 
outnumbered in tanks and short of petrol, thanks to the 
destruction by 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment 
of one of his main dumps near El Gubi, he could do no more 
than fight a series of delaying actions. By January 1 1 th he 
had taken refuge in an immensely strong defensive position 
round Agheila where " a broad belt of salt-pans, sand dunes 
and innumerable small cliffs stretches southwards for fifty 
miles, its southern flank resting on the vast expanse of shift- 
ing sands of the Libyan Sand Sea.** ITie Eighth Army had 
nothing left with which to dig him out. 
* To those who watched it anxiously from afar," writes 
Licut.-Colonel Carver of 7th Armoured Division, "the 
changes and chances of the battle were inexplicable; they 
only knew the disappointment of hopes buoyed up, to be 
dashed again and again, so that when victory came at last 
and Rommel's hold on Cyrenaica collapsed, they failed to 
appreciate the lion-hearted determination and persistence 
which had won through at last. To those who took part, a 
bitter taste remained; those who fought in tanks cursed 
those who sent them into battle, inferior in armour and 
armament and in tanks which broke down endlessly. The 



126 



ROMMEL 



infantry, with a sprinkling of useless anti-tank guns, looked 
to the tanks to protect them against enemy tanks and were 
bitter at their failure to do so. The armoured commanders 
hurrying from one spot to another to protect infantry from 
the threat of enemy tanks, which did not always materialise, 
blamed the infantry for wearing out their tanks and crews 
by such a misuse of the decisive arm in desert warfare." 

To this I would add a footnote of my own. Though it is 
mentioned in General Auchinleck's despatch, no one who 
did not serve in the desert can realise to what extent the 
difference between complete and partial success rested on 
the simplest item of our equipment — and the worst. Who- 
ever sent our troops into desert warfare with the 4-gallon 
petrol tin has much to answer for. General Auchinleck 
estimates that this " flimsy and ill-constructed container " 
led to the loss of thirty per cent of petrol belt/den base and 
consumer. Since the convoys bringing up the petrol reserves 
at one time themselves required 180,000 gallons a day, the 
overall loss was almost incalculable. To calculate the tanks 
destroyed, the number of men who were killed or went into 
captivity because of shortage of petrol at some crucial 
moment, the ships and merchant seamen lost in carrying it, 
would be quite impossible. Not only did the 4-gallon tin 
lead to " a most uneconomical use of transport," as General 
Auchinleck mildly remarks; it also encouraged the grossest 
extravagance. What to do with a leaking tin if your tank 

was full ? 14 Chuck the b over the side," was the answer 

of the always improvident British soldier — and his practice. 
Yet when I went back to India at the beginning of 1942, 
there was a factory outside Cairo still turning out these 
abominations. This at least partly disposed of the current 
rumour that someone in the Ministry of Supply had ordered 
x-millions of them and insisted that they be delivered. It 
did not dispose of the statement made to me by a very dis- 
tinguished American engineer with whom I discussed the 
matter in New Delhi, that he had seen, in the railway work- 



DESERT UPS AND DOWNS 127 

shop at Gwalior, stamps suited to the mass production of 
the admirable German "Jerrycan," with which everyone 
who could lay hands on them had already equipped himself. 
When I asked him what they were being used for, he said 
that they were stamping out steel ovens for Italian prisoners 
of war ! Meanwhile " the progress of our armour was first 
retarded by the enemy rearguards and finally brought to a 
standstill by lack of petrol." How many millions of gallons 
had gone into the sand? 

Under such handicaps, with a bare numerical superiority 
of ill-armed, ill-armoured, unreliable tanks; with a far 
inferior system of tank recovery; compelled, for lack of 
anti-tank guns, to use 25-pounders to hold off the panzers; 
with one division untrained to the desert; with a total 
strength little more than that of the enemy, the Eighth 
Army had defeated Rommel and driven him out of 
Gyrenaica. With one hundred Sherman tanks it would have 
destroyed him and the war in North Africa would have been 
over. The survivors of this battle cannot wear an " 8 " on 
their Africa Star. For some reason it was assumed by the 
authorities responsible for such things that the Eighth Army 
sprang into being only on October 23rd, 1 942, at the battle 
of El Alamein. They can, however, be proud that they 
fought with it through some of its greatest days. 



Chapter Seven 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 

If Rommel had an outstanding quality, it was resilience. 
Like one of those weighted toy figures, no sooner was he 
knocked down than he was on his feet again. By January 
11th, 1942, he was licking his wounds behind El Aghcila. 
The same day, more than three hundred miles to the east' 
ward, the South Africans captured Solium. Bardia had 
fallen at the beginning of the month. On January 1 7th the 
garrison of Halfaya, cut off from their water-supply and 
exhausted from lack of food, at last surrendered. The fron- 
tier strongholds were reduced at leisure and at small cost. 
Their fate was certain from the moment that Rommel began 
his withdrawal. 

Two-thirds of the Axis armies had been destroyed. Of the 
Afrika Korps, barely half had escaped death, capture or 
disablement. The morale of the remainder can hardly have 
been at its highest. As for the Italians, any fighting spirit 
that ever existed in the infantry divisions had sunk to zero 
during the long walk back from Tobruk. (The Germans, 
they complained, took all their transport.) The two German 
panzer divisions, or what was left of them, had been with- 
drawn to be re-equipped. Of Rommel's 412 tanks, 386 were 
lying, burnt out, blackened wrecks around the battlefields. 
Over 800 of his 1000 aircraft had been shot down or des- 
troyed on the ground. No new German formations could 
be expected for some time. It seemed that all he could hope 
for was to stand at Agheila until he was driven out by the 
Eighth Army or forced to withdraw by difficulties of supply, 

128 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 



129 



General Auchinleck estimated that not until the middle of 
February could he himself overcome his own administrative 
problems and concentrate enough troops to resume the 
offensive. 

On January 21st, Rommel attacked. "The improbable 
occurred : without warning the Axis forces began to 
advance." 

As on March 31st, 1941, Rommel may at first have in- 
tended no more than a large-scale reconnaissance. Yet it 
needed a man both morally and physically tough to think 
even of that at the moment. For Rommel, like our own 
commanders, had had two months of incessant fighting. 1 
Like them, he had slept in or beside his truck, never undis- 
turbed for more than an hour or two. Like them, he had 
eaten what and when he could. Like them, he had faced 
bitter cold and rain and blinding dust-storms. Even more 
than they, he had spent most of his days and nights bump- 
ing at speed across the battlefield. During the long retreat 
he had had neither the thrill of pursuit nor the prospect of 
victory to make him forget fatigue. When he reached 
Agheila he was, in fact, exhausted. Yet, to the men of the 
Afrika Korps, he assigned no limited objective. They were 
to take three days' rations and to follow him as far and as 
fast as they could. Reinforced, but with no more than a 
hundred tanks, some of them light, and with virtually no 
fighter cover at all, he set out with three columns. The weak 
and widely dispersed covering forces were quickly brushed 
aside. "As usual," says General Auchinleck, "Rommel 
rapidly and skilfully made the most of his initial success." 
The reconnaissance developed at once into an offensive. 1st 
Armoured Division, which had just replaced the veteran 
" desert rats " of 7th, was new to desert warfare. It lost 100 
of its 150 tanks and many guns. The Eighth Army was 
caught off balance. By February 7 th, at the cost of only 
about thirty of his own tanks, Rommel had hustled it back 

r. E 



130 



ROMMEL 



to the line Gazala-Bir Hacheim. It was bold and brilliant 
generalship, by any standard. 

Not only in Cyrenaica was the barometer falling for the 
British. From the Far East a chill wind was blowing; the 
breath of impending calamity was in the air. The Japanese 
were sweeping at speed through the " impenetrable jungles 99 
of Malaya. The " impregnable fortress " of Singapore was 
about to be attacked from the side whence no attack could 
come. In Burma, two weak divisions were faced with the 
prospect of withdrawing across country — if they could. 
'Nearer home, the Axis High Command had at long last 
come lo see the strategic importance of Malta and the Medi- 
terranean. Incessant air attacks were launched against the 
island; as the result, Rommel lost not a single ton of his 
supplies in January. Aircraft and submarines closed the 
Central Mediterranean to our own convoys. Heavy losses 
were inflicted on our naval forces; Admiral Cunningham 
was left with only three cruisers and a few destroyers. His 
flagship sat on the bottom in Alexandria. 

These events started a series of chain reactions. Just as 
General Wavell had had to discard from weakness to assist 
the foredoomed campaign in Greece, so General Auchinleck 
was prevented from building up his strength by demands for 
reinforcements for the Far East. Already in December, be- 
fore Rommel had been driven out of his Gazala position, the 
18th Division had been diverted from the Middle East to 
Malaya. (It landed in Singapore just before the capitulation 
and two of its brigades went straight into Japanese prison 
camps without firing a shot) Simultaneously, the dispatch 
of 1 7th (Indian) Division had been stopped. Tanks, fighter 
aircraft, guns had also to be sacrificed. 

Yet, because it seemed certain that Malta must fall unless 
we could secure the airfields of Western Cyrenaica and give 
cover to the island and to the relieving convoys, the Cabinet 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 131 

was insistent that an offensive be staged at the earliest 
possible moment. What was the earliest possible moment? 
'* Now, if not sooner," was the view of the Prime Minister. 
" When there is some chance of it being a success/' said 
General Auchinleck. A premature offensive might result in 
the piecemeal destruction of the new armoured forces which 
he was trying to create. Then, in an attempt to save Malta, 
he might lose Egypt and the whole Middle East. The vicious 
circle was completed by the fact that every day that passed 
with Malta unable to interfere with Rommel's " build-up " 
reduced the chances of attaching him successfully. In 
February, a convoy carrying a large number of tanks had 
already reached Tripoli. 

Long-distance arguments, like long-distance telephone 
calls in India, leave the exasperated participants with the 
impression that there must be a half-wit at the other end 
of the wire. Especially is this the case when both, from their 
own angle, are right. Fortunately Sir Stafford Cripps and 
General Nye, Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, were 
persuaded to come out to Cairo, since General Auchinleck 
could not be persuaded to leave the Middle East and go to 
London. There the Commander-in-Chief was able to con- 
vince them that his strength both in tanks and in the air was 
altogether too low to offer even a reasonable prospect of 
8vl immediate offensive being successful. 

By agreement, the offensive was fixed for the middle of 
May. Rommel meanwhile received so many tanks that it 
was doubtful whether we would even then have numerical 
superiority. The War Cabinet, however, was determined 
that, to save Malta, the risk of losing Egypt must be 
Accepted. General Auchinleck was ordered to launch his 
attack not later than the middle of June. In the event, 
Rommel attacked first, on May 27th, with tanks about equal 
in number and greatly superior in quality, even to the new 
American "General Grant's." The airfields of Western 



132 ROMMEL 

Cyrenaica were not captured ; Malta did not fall, thanks to 
Hitler's folly in postponing the airborne assault on it, but 
we very nearly lost Egypt. 

The disasters of June, 1 942, came as a staggering blow to 
the British public. Nothing shook them more than the fall 
of Tobruk which, in fact, it was not intended to hold if 
things went wrong. South Africa, because of the surrender 
of her troops there, and Australia, because of old associa- 
tions, were equally appalled. Even the Eighth Army, which 
had sensed victory in the first few days, could not under- 
stand how it had slipped from its grasp. Thus it has never 
been generally realised how close was Rommel to defeat — 
and to capitulation. 

" It all turned on the 150th Brigade box at Got-el-Ualeb," 
said General Bayerlein. " We never knew that it was there. 
Our first attacks on it failed. If we had not taken it on June 
1st, you would have captured the whole of the Afrika Korps. 
By the evening of the third day we were surrounded and 
almost out of petrol. As it was, it was a miracle that we 
managed to get our supplies through the minefield in time." 

The Gazala position consisted primarily of minefields, 
stretching from Gazala on the coast to Bir Hacheim, forty 
miles to the south in the open desert. Minefields alone will 
not stop tanks; lanes through them can quickly be cleared. 
There must be something behind them. It was impossible 
to dig and man a continuous trench system, as in the 
1914-18 war. Moreover, such a system would have been 
useless for, however far it stretched, its left flank must always 
be in the air. General Auchinleck and General Ritchie 
therefore devised a series of " boxes " or strongholds, the first 
at Gazala, the last at Bir Hacheim. Wired and mined in and 
prepared for all-round defence, they were, in effect, castles. 
Their garrisons were supplied to stand a siege and had their 
own complement of artillery inside the boxes. 

These boxes had a double function. In the first place, 



TQ THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 133 

they were to guard the minefields and prevent the enemy 
cutting lanes through them at leisure. In the second place, 
like castles in the Middle Ages, they were points of resis- 
tance which a prudent enemy must try to reduce. Other- 
wise, the garrisons could sally out and take him in the rear 
or harrass his communications. While he was involved with 
them, our armour, kept well away outside the boxes, would 
fall upon him. Having thus forced him to give battle on 
ground of our own choosing, we could, when the right 
moment came, take the offensive ourselves. A solid defen- 
sive system from which to launch it and on which to fall 
back if necessary, the Gazala position would be a sort of 
Scapa Flow for the Eighth Army. 

Rommel's first objective, as General Auchinlcck rightly 
assumed, must again be Tobruk. He dare not advance into 
Egypt until he had captured it. To attack Tobruk, he had 
only two choices. He could smash his way through the mine- 
fields and boxes and make direct for it or he could skirt the 
whole Gazala position, come round by Bir Hacheim and 
then strike north. Rommel chose the second course. The 
Italian armoured division, the Ariete, was to capture Bir 
Hacheim the first night if possible. In any case the Afrika 
Korps was to make straight for the sea. It was, in fact, to 
take Tobruk on the third day, having meanwhile defeated 
&e British armour ! The Italian divisions were to hold the 
front and prevent us breaking out westwards from the 
Gazala position. One of them, Trieste, was to cut a gap 
through the minefield where it was crossed by the Trigh-el- 
Abd track. This was a precaution, to shorten the supply line 
in case Bir Hacheim did not fall at once. It was behind this 
minefield that the 150 Brigade box was situated. 

" I never liked this plan/' said General Bayerlein, " and, 
as Chief of Staff of the Afrika Korps, I told Rommel so con- 
tinually. It seemed to me altogether too risky to go on with- 
out first knocking out Bir Hacheim. Six weeks before he 
asked me ' What would you do with your armour if you 



134 



ROM MEL 



were General Ritchie ?' I told him that I would keep it well 
away to the eastward, somewhere about El Adem, refuse 
battle at first and then strike at our flank when we were 
inside the Gazala position. ' You're crazy/ he said, * they'll 
never do that !' though it was just what he would have done 
himself. As a matter of fact, I think General Ritchie's dis- 
positions were excellent. The American 'General Grant' 
tanks, too, with their 75 mm. gun, came as a great surprise 
to us and 15th Panzer Division lost 100 tanks the first day. 

"General Cruwell, commanding the Afrika Korps, was 
shot down and made a forced landing in the 150th Brigade 
box, where he was taken prisoner. General Gausi, Ghief of 
Staff to Rommel, was wounded. General Nehring took over 
the Afrika Korps and I took over from Gausi. When we had 
failed to capture Bir Hacheim and failed to get a passage 
through the minefield, both of us begged Rommel to break 
off the battle but he wouldn't hear of it. That was. I think, 
on the evening of May 31st. We were in a reallv desperate 
position, our backs against the minefield, no food, no water, 
no petrol, very little ammunition, no way through the mines 
for our convoys, Bir Hacheim still holding out and prevent- 
ing our getting supplies from the south. We were being 
attacked all the time from the air. In another twenty-four * 
hours we should have had to surrender." 

That bore out exactly a story which I first heard in Barce 
prison camp only a few days after these events. On the first 
day of the attack the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was over- 
run. An officer of the 10th Hussars, an old friend of mine, 
had his tank destroyed soon afterwards and found himself 
amongst the Indian prisoners, near Rommel's headquarters 
east of the minefields. Ringed round by 88 mm. guns to 
keep off our armour, Rommel was making desperate 
attempts to capture 150th Brigade box and get his supplies 
through. The Indian prisoners were dying of thirst and 
fighting for the few drops of water that were served out to 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 135 

the wounded. Major Archer-Shee, an officer of imposing 
presence, demanded to see Rommel and, to his surprise, was 
taken to him. He spoke enough German to make his protest. 
If the prisoners could not be given food and water, then the 
Germans had no right to keep them and should send them 
back to the British lines. Rommel was reasonable and even 
sympathetic. " You are getting exactly the same ration of 
water as the Afrika Korps and myself/* he said : " half a 
cup. But I agree that we cannot go on like this. If we don't 
get a convoy through to-night I shall have to ask General 
Ritchie for terms. You can take a letter to him for me. . . ." 

It was, it seems, as near as that, though one cannot quite 
picture Rommel going meekly off into captivity. But 
General Auchinleck, back in Cairo, saw before General 
Ritchie that the capture of 150th Brigade box changed 
everything. " I am glad that you think the situation is still 
favourable to us and is improving," he wrote on June 3rd. 
" All the same, I view the destruction of 1 50th Brigade and 
the consolidation by the enemy of a broad and deep wedge 
in the middle of your position with some misgiving. I feel 
that if he is allowed to consolidate himself . . . our Gazala 
position, including Bir Hacheim, will become untenable 
•eventually, even if he does not renew his offensive. . . . 
Situated as he is, he is rapidly becoming able to regain the 
i ddative which you have wrested from him in the last 
week's fighting. . . 

What went wrong? It is easy to be wise after the event. 
In this case I am on record as having been right at the time. 
In A Year of Battle, Alan Moorehead recalls my telling him 
on June 2nd or 3rd, that I was afraid we had already 
missed the boat by not launching an attack with 5th Indian 
Division, under General Briggs, when Rommel was pinned 
against the minefield. Such an attack had, indeed, already 
been discussed. At intervals on June 2nd, I saw General 
Briggs, a deceptively mild officer with two bars to his D.S.O. 



136 



ROMMEL 



Together we deplored the delay. At one moment we were 
going to attack : at another the whole division was going to 
go south round Bir Hacheim and start on a non-stop drive 
to Derna. In the end we hung about and did nothing. 
When the attack was at last put in on June 5th, it was three 
days too late. 150th Brigade box had fallen : a lane through 
the minefield had been cleared. The Afrika Korps was itself 
again, with petrol, food, water and ammunition, with plenty 
of 88 mm. guns in position and with tanks behind them in 
the salient. In the belated attack, 10th Brigade of 5th 
Division had some initial success but our armour failed to 
exploit it. In the evening the German tanks and lorried 
infantry slipped round behind the brigade. Germans in 
British carriers overran the single battalion protecting the 
flank before they were recognised. The tanks and lorried 
infantry followed. Brigade headquarters and the tactical 
headquarters of the division went up in the smoke of burn- 
ing tents and trucks. General Briggs and General Messervy 
of 7th Armoured Division, returning from a " recce," 
managed to slip through. Brigadier Boucher, the brigade 
commander, making his way back to his headquarters, and 
I, waiting for him there, were less lucky. 

That night, sitting amongst the German tanks in the open, 
it was easy to see that Rommel was on the move again. He 
had, indeed, recovered the initiative which General Ritchie 
had wrested from him and had no intention of giving it up. 
June 5th was the turning-point of the battle, though the 
chance of winning it outright went three days earlier. 

Rommel now did what he ought to have done at the start. 
He sent General Bayerlein off to put Bir Hacheim finally out 
of business. 1 1 took a week of unceasing artillery bombard- 
ment and Stuka attacks. Even then the gallant Free French 
were still holding out. But they could not hold out much 
longer and General Ritchie told General Koenig to abandon 
Bir Hacheim on the night of June 10th and try to break 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 137 

through. He got away with a large part of his force, driven 
out by a British girl driver. 

With Bir Hacheim off his back, Rommel at once reverted 
to his original plan of taking Tobruk. By midnight on the 
1 1th, 90th Light Division was a few miles south of El Adem. 
The armoured divisions were echeloned on its left. There 
followed two days of great and decisive tank battles. Rom- 
mel threw in all his armour. But he threw it in behind a 
screen of anti-tank guns, of which he now produced more 
than it was ever suspected that he had. The British 
armoured brigades, weakened by the loss of most of the 
Grants, had to try to break through the screen to get at the 
German tanks. The guns took heavy toll of them. The 
tanks fell upon the remainder. By nightfall on June 13th 
most of our armoured strength was gone. Moreover, the 
enemy had possession of the battlefield and could recover 
his damaged tanks : ours were lost to us. 

It was now clear that the Gazala position would have to 
be abandoned. But both General Auchinlcck and General 
Ritchie were reluctant to believe that the Eighth Army was 
beaten. Tt had lost its armour but much of its infantry 
was intact. The New Zealand Division had been ordered 
from Syria. A new armoured division, the 10th, was on its 
way to the front. There were about 1 50 tanks under repair 
ih the workshops. We should soon again have more tanks 
than Rommel. We were still superior in the air, as we had 
been throughout. The decision was taken to give up Gazala 
but to hold a line from the western perimeter of Tobruk to 
El Adem and Belhamed. At the same time a mobile force 
was to be maintained to the eastward and a new striking 
force built up near the frontier. This meant that Tobruk, 
or part of it, would again be invested, which was contrary 
to plan, since the Navy had said that it could not be sup- 
plied. However, a temporary and partial investment was 
different to a sustained siege. 



138 



ROMMEL 



In General Bayerlein's opinion, this decision was fatal. 
" To my mind," he said, " General Ritchie ought to have 
gone straight back to the frontier after we captured Bir 
Hacheim and were astride the Gazala position. In any case 
he should never have tried to hold Tobruk with the defences 
in the state they were and with an improvised garrison. If 
he was going to hold it, as we assumed he was, then he 
should have prepared to do so from the start, laid new mine- 
fields, got his guns into position and so on. Above all, he 
should have put an experienced general in charge. If some- 
one like General Morshcad or General Gott or General 
Frcyberg had been there, things might have been different. 
As it was, a few units fought well. I remember a Scottish 
battalion (the Cameron Highlanders) which went on fight- 
ing long after General Klopper had surrendered. But there 
seemed to be no proper defence plan at all." 

Fatal the decision certainly proved. Having captured Sidi 
Rezegh on June 17th and heavily defeated our armour on 
the same day, Rommel attacked Tobruk from El Duda on 
June 20th, exactly as he had proposed to attack it on 
November 23rd of the previous year. Using his Stukas to 
dive-bomb the minefields and clear a passage, he quickly 
broke into the fortress from the south-east. Inside, all was 
soon confusion. General Klopper, bombed out of his head- 
quarters, his signal communications gone, had lost all touch 
and all control. As the German tanks fanned out from the 
gap in the perimeter and drove straight to the harbour, 
some troops fought on. Some broke out to the eastward, a 
battalion of the Coldstream Guards naturally in good order. 
The South Africans, holding the western and south-western 
side of the perimeter, hardly knew what was happening 
until 90th Light Division took them in the rear. Sullenly 
at dawn next morning they obeyed General Klopper's order 
to surrender. In prison camps for many months afterwards 
they were bitterly resentful and ashamed. The fortress 
which had held out for nine months in 1941 had been taken 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 



139 



in a day. Inevitably they would be blamed. Inevitably they 
blamed General Klopper. 

During the last hours and for long afterwards, Tobruk 
was covered with a funereal pall of black smoke from the 
dumps fired just before the capitulation. Millions of pounds 
of petrol and stores were burnt. Nevertheless, there was 
enough left to enable Rommel to drive on to Egypt. 

It was now too late to stand on the frontier. General 
Ritchie sought permission to retire to Mersa Matruh. Re- 
luctantly General Auchioleck agreed, though with mis- 
givings. For without armour, Mersa Matruh was no more 
easily defensible than the frontier. By the evening of June 
23rd, Rommel was again on the frontier wire. 

Should he have gone on? General von Thoma says that 
he disobeved a specific order from Mussolini, conveyed 
through Marshal Badoglio, to stop on the frontier after the 
capture of Tobruk. General Bayerlein denies this. A con- 
ference was held west of Bardia on June 22nd, he says. He 
himself only came in when it was nearing the end, but Rom- 
mel told him afterwards that General Bastico, his immediate 
superior, had been of opinion that an advance into Egypt 
should not be attempted. There was, however, no order to 
that effect either from the Italian or the German High 
Command and General Bastico gave way when Rommel 
* lold him that he had been assured by Marshal Kesselring 
that he would get all the supplies he wanted. The point is 
clarified, if that is the word, by two extracts from Ciano's 
Diaries. On June 22nd he says that " a restraining telegram 
has already been sent from Rome advising Rommel that he 
should not venture bevond the line Fort Capuzzo-Sollum." 
Next day he writes, " From some intercepted telegrams from 
the American observer in Cairo, Fellers, we learn that the 
British have been beaten and that if Romnfel continues his 
action he has a good chance of getting as far as the Canal 
Zone.* Naturally Mussolini is pressing for prosecution of the 
attack. . . /' 



140 



ROMMEL 



The decision was, then, Rommel's, the indecision was not. 
To a man of his temperament it was inevitable. He had the 
Eighth Army on the run. Was he to stop and let it re-form 
and then start the whole business over again from the line 
where he had halted fourteen months before? With the 
glittering prize of Egypt and the Suez Canal almost within 
his grasp, both the German and the Italian High Command 
must realise what was at stake and give him the extra sup- 
port and supplies he needed. " No one could have guessed," 
says General Bayerlein, " that the British would so quickly 
regain control of the Mediterranean and be so successful in 
stopping our shipping." Still less could any one have guessed 
that Hitler, with his famous intuition, and Keitel, Jodl and 
Haider, with their trained staff minds, would not even see 
the opportunity that lay open before them. Of course he 
must go on. The Afrika Korps was, indeed, exhausted. But 
to Rommel, with his tremendous vitality, no soldier was 
ever too exhausted to fight the last round of a winning battle 
— or, for that matter, of a losing one. 

Go on they did, and at speed. By the evening of June 
24th (four days from the fall of Tobruk), Rommel was up 
to Sidi Barrani. Next day his columns were within forty 
miles of Mersa Matruh. That evening General Auchinleck 
personally took over command of the Eighth Army. At once 
he resolved that no part of it should be shut up in the Mersa 
Matruh defences, which he had not enough troops to man. 
The Tobruk mistake was not to be repeated. Rommel must 
be stopped, if possible, in the area between Matruh and El 
Alamein. But 30th Corps was to occupy the El Alamein 
position as a precaution. On the evening of June 26th, the 
German tanks broke through the minefields south of 
Charing Cross. Next day they bumped the New Zealand 
Division fresh and, as always, full of fight. They lost heavily 
but pressed forward along the coast and succeeded in cutting 
the road twenty miles east of Matruh. 50th Division and 
the newly-arrived 10th Indian Division had to fight their 



TO THE GATES OF ALEXANDRIA 141 

way out at night, leaving much of their ammunition and 
equipment behind* There was now nothing for it but to 
withdraw to the position which General Auchinleck had 
Jong before prepared. On June 30th Rommel came up to 
the £1 Alamein line. Alexandria was 65 miles away. He 
had, General Baycrlein assures me, just twelve German 
tanks left. 



Chapter Eight 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 

i. "desert-worthy" 

On the morning of June 21st, Rommel was able to report 
that. Tobruk was in his hands. Next day he learnt by wire- 
less from Hitler's headquarters that he was a Field-Marshal, 
at fifty the youngest in the German Army. That evening he 
celebrated his promotion — on tinned pineapple and one 
small glass of whisky from a bottle which one of his staff 
had procured from the Tobruk NAAFI. After dinner he 
wrote to his wife : " Hitler has made me a Field-Marshal. 
I would much rather he had given me one more division." 
Still, he was in unusually high spirits, as well he might be 
when he looked back on his fourteen lean years as a captain 
and reflected where the next ten had brought him. 

This was the peak of his professional career and of his 
success in North Africa. He had reached it in sixteen months 
from landing in Tripoli, with the modest mission of pre- 
venting the British capturing Tripolitania. He had had to 
adapt himself, not only to a new type of warfare but to the 
strange and exacting life of the desert. It would be infelici- 
tous to say that he took to it like a duck to water, but he 
quickly became as " desert-worthy "* as a Bedouin. " Rom- 
mel may not have been a great strategist," said General 
Bayerlein, " but there is no doubt that he was the best man 
in the whole of the German Army for desert war." 

It was a young man's war. Rommel was no longer a 

*" Desert-worthy^ " was a term first used for vehicles fit for the desert. It came to 
be more widely applied, to formations, to units and even to individuals. 

142 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



143 



young man. Thanks to years of ski-ing and mountaineering 
lie was, however, physically in his prime. "He had the 
strength of a horse," said a young German paratroop officer, 
himself a ski-ing champion. " I never saw another man like 
him. No need for food, no need for drink, no need for sleep. 
He could wear out men twenty and thirty years younger. 
If anything, he was too hard, on himself and everyone else." 

There was, indeed, a Spartan strain in Rommel which 
made him take pride in being impervious to discomfort and 
fatigue. Neither heat nor cold nor hard lying affected him. 
Even the ghibli, as the Germans called the hamseen, the 
blinding sandstorm which reduced all in the desert, Arabs 
and camels included, to a common misery, he professed to 
regard as an exaggerated annoyance. Piloting his own 
Storch, he insisted on taking off in one during his first 
desert battle. When he had nearly killed himself, coming 
in to land with visibility nil, he admitted that it had been 
" difficult to see what the British were up to." No doubt 
they were merely up to their eyebrows in driving sand. 

Like Napoleon, Rommel could snatch a few minutes' 
sleep, sitting up in his truck or with his head on a table, 
and wake completely refreshed. I asked Gunther, his bat- 
man, now a pastry-cook in Garraisch, whether he minded 
being disturbed when he was having a night in. " Not at 
oil," said the stolid Gunther, who was with him for four 
years. " He always seemed quite pleased and was wide- 
awake in a second. He slept with one eye open : if a message 
came, he usually woke before I called him." Gunther added 
that he was a very even-tempered man who never took it 
out of his batman and was easy to satisfy. (His generals 
saw a different side of him.) 

Food, Rommel had never cared much about. He was 
quite content to set off for a day in the desert with a small 
packet of sandwiches or a tin of sardines and a piece of 
bread* Once he invited an Italian general to lunch with him 
in the open. " It was rather awkward," he remarked after- 



144 



ROMMEL 



wards : " I had only three slices of bread and they were all 
stale. Never mind, they eat too much.'* Realising that the 
more one drinks in the desert the thirstier one becomes, he 
carried only a small flask of cold tea and lemon and often 
brought it hack untouched. 

In the evening he would dine alone in his caravan with 
his old friend Aldinger. He insisted on being given the same 
rations as the troops. They were not very good. " One of 
the reasons we had so much sickness, especially jaundice," 
said von Escbeck, the war correspondent, cousin of the 
general, "was that our rations were too heavy for the 
desert. Our black bread in a carton was handy but how we 
used to long to capture one of your field bakeries and cat 
fresh, white bread ! And your jam ! For the first four 
months we got no fresh fruit or vegetables at all. We lived 
all the time on Italian tinned meat. The tins had a big 
' A.M.' on them : the troops used to call it f asinus 
Mussolini/ " 

To a young officer of the Afrika Korps who ventured to 
say that, while he had no complaints, the food was not too 
appetising, Rommel replied genially : " Do you imagine that 
it tastes any better to me?" In fact he never noticed how it 
tasted. His only recorded taste, a negative one, was that he 
disliked tea and coffee made with brackish water. (He can- 
not have enjoyed his visit to Girabub, where the water has 
the exact consistency of Epsom salts. Of Girabub, they used 
to say : " Here Mr. Eno would have starved to death and 
Mr. Bromo made a fortune.") 

After the evening meal, which lasted twenty minutes at 
the most and at which he drank his one glass of wine, Rom- 
mel would turn on the wireless. He listened only to the 
news. Then he would write his daily letter to his wife. In 
action, when he had no time to write, it was Gunther's duty 
to write for him. He also carried on a continuous corres- 
pondence in his own hand with survivors of his first-war 
battalion. No letter from one of them ever went unanswered. 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



145 



Official papers took up the rest of the evening until bed- 
time. If he read at all, it was a newspaper or a book on a 
military subject. He had some interest in the history of 
North Africa and was mildly curious about the ruins of 
Gyrene. But the story that he had kept up his classics and 
was a keen archaeologist who spent his scanty leisure in dig- 
ging for Roman remains was a production of the propagan- 
dists. Von Esebcck was responsible for it. " Some of us had 
been scratching about and had turned up some bits of 
Roman pottery," he totd mc. u We were looking at them 
when Rommel came along. What he actually said, when 
we showed them to him, was : * What the hell do you want 
with all that junk?' But you can't tell that from the photo- 
graph!" 

In the morning, Rommel was up and about by six. A 
stickler for turn-out on a parade, he let the Afrika Korps 
dress as they pleased in the desert. Usually they followed 
the Australian fashion and wore shoes, shorts and their 
peaked caps. He himself was always shaved and in uniform. 
Sometimes he wore shorts but more often breeches and 
boots and invariably a jacket. His tropical helmet tie threw 
away, like the rest of us, soon after his arrival : he never put 
on a tin- hat. His only eccentricity, perhaps borrowed from 
the British, was a check scarf round his neck in winter, 
iinder it, according to the German customs he wore his 
Iron Gross. He was thus considerably more dressy than our 
own commanders who, in their short, zip-fastened, camel- 
hair coats and corduroy slacks, could only be distinguished 
by their red hats and rank badges — when they wore them. 
(General Messervy, temporarily captured when command- 
ing 7th Armoured Division, succeeded in passing as a pri- 
vate soldier. "A bit old for this, aren't you?" asked a 
German officer. " Much too old," agreed General Messervy : 
" Reservist : they had no right to call me up.") 

By 6.30 a.m. Rommel had started on his daily round of 
his positions. Sometimes he went by air, flying the aircraft 



146 



ROMMEL 



himself. Though he had no ticket, he was a confident pilot 
and an excellent navigator. In battle, he generally used 
" Mammut," his British armoured command truck. Often 
he drove himself about in a Volkswagen, finding his way un- 
erringly across the desert from the first. No post was too 
isolated for him to turn up at it. When he descended on the 
back areas, it was an unlucky senior officer whom he caught 
in bed after seven. " You damned lazy fox," he said to one 
unfortunate colonel who came out to meet him in his 
pyjamas. " 1 suppose you were waiting for me to bring you 
your breakfast?" To Aldinger lie remarked afterwards : 
" It's a great thing to be a Field-Marshal and still remember 
how to talk to them like a sergeant-major." 

His visits to the forward area were no mere perfunctory 
inspections. With his keen eye for country and his great 
mastery of minor tactics, he missed nothing — a machine-gun 
badly sited, transport in the wrong wadi, mines too ob- 
viously laid, an uncamouflaged CP. If he were not satisfied 
with a position, he would drive out alone a mile or so into 
the blue, to look at it with the enemy's eyes. Not infre- 
quently he drew fire. Then he would return to a flank, so 
as not to give the position away. Crawling towards the fort 
at Acroma, he was fired on when he was half-way through 
the minefield. " That comes of being in a hurry," he said. 
" I should have moved more slowly." His attention to their 
own small problems, his fertility of tactical ideas, his skill 
in desert navigation, these impressed the young officer and 
the young soldier. He was one of themselves, a " front-line 
type." 

Moreover, he could talk to them, for he had a great affec- 
tion for youth. " He was always gay when he was speaking 
to young men," said von Esebeck. " He had a smile and a 
joke for everyone who seemed to be doing his job. There 
was nothing he liked better than to talk with a man from 
his own part of the country in the Swabian dialect. He had 
a very warm heart," added von Esebeck reflectively, " and 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



147 



more charm than any one I have ever known." This last, 
from a well-read and sophisticated man, who had seen much 
more of the world and of " society " than Rommel, was a 
surprise. 

In battle, Rommel was at his best. He was a natural 
leader and he relied, both instinctively and deliberately, 
upon personal leadership. As was remarked at the time, he 
was the first to identify desert war with war at sea, the first 
to understand that " no admiral ever won a naval battle 
from a shore base." He had an exceptionally quick brain 
and an exceptionally quick eye for a military situation. But 
the reason that he was able to catch so many fleeting oppor- 
tunities, the secret of his early successes, was that he did not 
have to wait for information to be filtered back to him 
through the usual channels of command. He was up to sec 
for himself, in his aircraft, his tank, his armoured car, his 
Volkswagen or on foot. It was thus that he was able, with- 
out any appreciable interval for planning, to turn his recon- 
naissances in April, 1941, and January, 1942, into victorious 
offensives. It was thus that he was able to emerge from 
defeat and almost certain disaster at the end of May, 194-2, 
and to swing the issue of the battle as soon as his supplies 
were assured. So far as one man can in modern war, he 
contrived to " ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm." 

He has been criticised, by Captain Liddell Hart amongst 
others, for " dashing about the battlefield " and being too 
often out of touch with his headquarters. There is some 
truth in that. Yet Captain Liddell Hart himself admits that 
he had " a wonderful knack of appearing at some vital spot 
and giving a decisive impetus to the action at a crucial 
moment." Major-General Fuller has fewer doubts. "In 
rapidity of decision and velocity of movement," he writes, 
"the Germans completely outclassed their enemy and 
mainly because Rommel, instead of delegating his command 
to his subordinates, normally took personal command of his 
armour. ... It was not that the British generals were less 



148 



ROMMEL 



able than the German. It was that their education was out 
of date. It was built on the trench warfare of 1914-1918 
and not on the armoured warfare they were called upon to 
direct." Rommel was twice defeated when General Auchin- 
leck took over in the forward area and gave his orders on 
the spot. He escaped defeat in June, 1942, because decisions 
and communications on our side were too slow. 

No one in the desert doubted that personal command 
paid. But it would be a mistake to picture Rommel as a 
modern Prince Rupert, always waving his hat and leading 
his tanks in headlong charges against the enemy. On the 
contrary, he was a canny fighter who, more often than our 
own commanders, refused action except on his own terms. 
His main contribution to tank tactics was, indeed, his use of 
a screen of self-propelled anti-tank guns. Behind it, his 
panzers advanced; behind it, they would withdraw or re- 
fuel; through it, they would be launched to the attack, when 
his guns had taken toll of our armour. Repeatedly our tanks 
were entrapped and led on to the guns in their attempts to 
close. Repeatedly, with his own armour concentrated, he 
caught ours dispersed. He was artful in other ways. His 
first order on landing in Tripoli was for the construction of 
dummy tanks. He constantly used his transport to create 
dust and suggest the presence of his panzer divisions. He 
started by dragging tarpaulins behind trucks but soon got 
the idea of fitting propellors behind them. The streams of 
coloured flares which lit the desert at night were often for 
our benefit. Captured trucks and carriers were freely em- 
ployed, not only because the Germans were short of trans- 
port but also to create confusion during an advance. 

Nor was his system of command so haphazard and slip- 
shod as has been supposed. He did not merely rush about 
the battlefield giving impromptu orders to individuals or 
minor formations. Had he done so, he could never have 
controlled forces of 100,000 men with the success he did. 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



149 



His orders were often given verbally. In the heat of battle, 
when he thought that the enemy would not have time to 
profit if they picked them up, he sometimes gave them over 
the air in clear. But Aldinger assures me that a shorthand 
note was always taken and that they were confirmed in 
writing, whenever time allowed. In any case they were short 
and unequivocal. Rommel never had any doubt about what 
he wanted and left none in the minds of his subordinates. 

Inevitably, he took great personal risks in battle. Again 
and again he was close to death or capture. Once both his 
driver and his spare driver were killed alongside him and he 
had to drive the truck out himself. Rommel was an excep- 
tionally brave man and completely imperturbable under 
fire but our senior commanders would have done the same 
had it been the custom. No one could have been braver, on 
a lower level, than Generals Freyberg, or " Jock n Campbell 
or 44 Strafer " Gott. Rommel, like Napoleon, and Welling- 
ton, took risks because he had to, if he were to direct the 
battle in person. They were merely occupational hazards. 
He was the more easily able to accept them because he was 
comfortably convinced that it was impossible for him to be 
killed in action. <- 

So were his subordinates. They, however, attributed his 
immunity to his " Fingerspitzengefiihl," that innate sense of 
what the enemy was about to do. " At noon on November 
25th," said General Bayerlcin, " we were at the headquar- 
ters of the Afrika Korps at Gasr-el-Abid, Suddenly Rommel 
turned to me and said, ' Bayerlein, I would advise you to 
get out of this : I don't like it.' An hour later the head- 
quarters were unexpectedly attacked and overrun. The 
same afternoon we were standing together when he said, 
' Let's move a couple of hundred yards to a flank : I think 
we are going to get shelled here.' One bit of desert was 
just the same as another. But five minutes after we had 
moved the shells were falling exactly where we had been 



150 



ROMMEL 



standing. Everyone you meet who fought with Rommel in 
either war will tell you similar stories." Everyone did. 

It is easy, in considering, academically, Rommel's method 
of command, to forget its main purpose and its main effect 
— the encouragement in his troops of a will to win. On that 
hangs, in the last analysis, the issue of all battles. Battles 
may, indeed, he lost by bad generalship or bad staff -work. 
But no generalship, however good, and still less staff- work, 
can outweigh lack of morale in the fighting man. " A la 
guerre les trots quarts sont des affaires morales," said 
Napoleon and others have put it higher. Rommel's con- 
tinual prowling about their forward positions may have 
been an irritation to his subordinate commanders. It is 
possible that lie could sometimes have been better employed 
in studying maps and messages at his headquarters than in 
dashing into the dust and confusion of a desert u dog-fight." 
That it was his personal inspiration and the physical sight 
of that stocky, confident figure in action which made the 
Afrika Korps what it was is certain. 

At the time we believed that the Afrika Korps was a carps 
d* elite, hand-picked from volunteers and specially 
toughened and trained for desert warfare. It was not so. 
The men were not volunteers. "Otherwise the whole of 
the German Army would have volunteered," said General 
von Ravenstein. Nor were they individually selected. They 
were recruited from depots and units in the usual way and 
it is not to be supposed that German commanding officers 
were always more scrupulous than our own in sending their 
best for extra-regimental duty. There was no special train- 
ing, except that some of the officers were privileged to be 
attached to the Italians for instruction. Otherwise the 
Afrika Korps was just the run-of-the-mill of the Reichswehr. 
The young German soldier was strong, willing and well- 
trained in the use of his weapons. He was disciplined, 
patriotic and brave. Physically he was not particularly well- 
suited to the desert. The very young and the very blond 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



151 



(could not stand the heat ; nor could the veterans of the first 
war. On the whole, the Germans did not adapt themselves 
to desert conditions as easily as did the Australians, the New 
Zealanders, the South Africans, the Indians or the British. 
Few of them, either officers or men, had ever been out of 
Europe. They did not understand Africa. For example, it 
was hard to make them realise that all water was not fit to 
drink. "There was no proper water purification system," 
said von Escbeck, "and we suffered much from dysentery 
as well as from jaundice. Our doctors did not know nearly 
as much as yours about keeping troops fit in a tropical 
climate. German field hospitals were inferior to yours and 
there was, at first, no plasma for blood transfusions. It took 
us a long time to learn to look after ourselves in the desert." 

On the credit side, the Afrika Korps had better weapons, 
though less transport, and knew better how to use them. It 
had better prospects of leave. It was better supplied with 
newspapers, such as its own " Oasc." It was homogeneous, 
whereas the Eighth Army was always a very mixed bag. It 
arrived in Africa in good heart. All this admitted, it was 
Rommel who, almost at once, by personal influence and 
example, by force of character, by taking more risks than his 
troops, converted it into that tough, truculent, resilient fight- 
ing force we knew. Rommel was the Afrika Korps, to his 
own men as well as to his enemy. It was he who made them 
bold, self-confident and even arrogant in battle. It was he 
who taught them to pull the last ounce out of themselves 
and never to admit that they were beaten. It was because 
they were the Afrika Korps that, even when they were taken 
prisoner, they marched down to the docks at Suez with their 
heads high, still whistling "We march against England 
to-day." In Germany in 1949 they still carry their paim-trec 
brassard in their pocket-books. If you ask them whether 
they were in North Africa they take pride in answering : 
" Yes, I was in the Afrika Korps : I fought with Rommel." 
Good-luck to them, for they fought well and, as the Ger- 



152 



ROMMEL 



mans say, the next best thing to a good friend is a good 
enemy. 

Idolised by the Afrika Korps, Rommel was revered some 
way this side of idolatry by his generals. From all their 
accounts, he was a hard and difficult man to deal with. In 
battle he put out the most sensitive antennae to the reactions 
of the enemy : he was not so sensitive to the feelings of his 
senior offiers. He had a rough tongue and could be brutal. 
He was impatient. He would not see what he did not want 
to see. He would not have his orders questioned. He could 
not bear to be told that anything was impossible. He had a 
bad habit of going over the heads of commanders and giving 
orders direct to subordinates. A still worse one was that of 
dragging his Chief of Staff with him wherever he went and 
leaving no one at headquarters with authority to take a 
decision. In action he was inclined to occupy himself with 
details, such as the capture of General Cunningham, which 
did not strictly concern a supreme commander. Out of the 
line he was unsociable. " Of course he had not had quite 
the same early advantages as most German Field-Marshals," 
explained, deprecatingly, one of his generals, around whom 
one could still detect a lingering aura of cavalry messes and 
country estates, of full-dress uniforms and balls and the visits 
of minor royalty. 

Such was the criticism. The grounds for it were inherent 
both in Rommel himself and in his method of command. 
He was a man who insisted on " running his own show." It 
was inevitable that he should often overrule his subordinate 
commanders. It was his nature to do so with little ceremony. 
It was equally inevitable that senior German officers should 
dislike a system practised in the past by Napoleon but out- 
moded in modern war, if only because in modern war direct 
personal command is seldom possible. To do them justice, 
the criticism was invariably and immediately qualified. 
Rommel was the bravest of the brave; he had a sixth sense 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



153 



in battle; he was wonderful with troops; when he had 
quietened down it was always possible to talk to him; if he 
gave orders over one's head he would apologise afterwards; 
he was generous with praise and would admit when he had 
been wrong. Could they think of any one better for desert 
war, I asked them. No, they all agreed, nor of any one half 
as good. 



If. NOSTR'ALLEATI ITALIANI 

The Afrika Korps was homogeneous. The Axis forces in 
North Africa were not entirely so. There were also the 
Italians. Poor Italians, they have almost taken the place in 
military legend of our own " oldest allies " in the first war. 
Rommel naturally had his stock of stories which were re- 
tailed to Manfred, with additions by Aldinger. There was, 
for example, the story of the attack which the Italians were 
persuaded to launch at Tobruk. When they were half-way 
across and out of reach of the Germans, they dropped their 
arms and put their hands up. Suddenly they turned about 
and came scampering back. " Mamma mia f " they ex- 
plained breathlessly, 11 those aren't English, they're Austra- 
lians !" Again, Rommel was visiting their trenches when the 
Australians made a local attack. " Sancta Maria! "'■ cried the 
Italians and fell on their knees. " I'm going to give you a 
bit of advice," said Rommel to the Italian officer in com- 
mand. " Stop them praying and persuade them to shoot. . . . 
This is where I leave you. Good-bye !" 

The story that the Australians had sent back Italian 
prisoners with the seats cut out of their breeches and a 
message to the Germans to replace them with an equivalent 
number of the Afrika Korps, I regarded with some distrust. 
I remembered that the Germans were said to have done 
exactly the same with our oldest allies after an attempted 
raid in 1918 at Merville. In that case, however, their back- 



154 



ROMMEL 



sides were painted blue and the message from the Germans 
was to the effect that when they wanted specimens they 
would come and collect them. The British need not, there- 
fore, bother to send them over. There was a suspicious 
similarity about those stories and I should not be surprised 
if they are as old as war itself. 

On the whole Rommel agreed with the Italian soldier 
who said to him : " Why don't you Germans do the fight- 
ing, General, and let us Italians build the roads?" But he 
never thought that they were all cowards. The Arietc 
Armoured Division fought very well at El Gubi and else- 
where : Brescia was not too bad. There was a good batta- 
lion commanded by a Major Montemuro. The pioneers 
were all good and worked well, even under fire. Properly 
officered, given decent equipment and a prospect of home 
leave, he felt that something might have been made of them. 
(General Speidel told me that the northern Italian divisions 
of General Garibaldi's 8th Italian Army, to which he was 
Chief of Staff, fought well in Russia under much worse 
conditions.) The equipment, like the officers, was worthless. 
The early Italian tanks were only " sardine-tins " and many 
tanks and armoured cars had no radio sets and had to com- 
municate by flags. Since this must have been known to 
Mussolini and since, as appears from Ciano's Diaries, he 
had the profoundest contempt for his unfortunate fellow- 
countrymen and for all his generals, it remains a mystery 
how he expected them to " live like lions." Nevertheless, 
though no lions, some of them had a slightly pathetic ad- 
miration for Rommel. At a meeting of his Council of 
Ministers on February 7th, 1942, Mussolini, after his usual 
attack on the Italian generals, described how " the Bersa- 
glieri are enthusiastic about Rommel. They give him their 
feather and carry him in triumph on their shoulders, shout- 
ing that with him they are sure to reach Alexandria." The 
incident may have been embellished for the occasion. Never- 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 155 

j 

thcless, Rommel had a paternal way with Italian "other 
ranks " which made him simpatico to them. 

To the Italian High Command and to Italian officers he 
was not simpatico in the least. The officers as a class he 
considered contemptible. He was especially horrified to 
learn that there were three scales of rations for Italian 
troops in the desert, one for officers, one for N.G.O.s and 
one for other ranks, in sharply descending order. That the 
officers did not attempt to look after their men, he attri- 
buted to the fact that they had " no military tradition." 
But that did not excuse, in his eyes, their too evident reluc- 
tance to acquire one. (He made an exception of the Air 
Force, which produced some dashing fighter-pilots.) For 
their part, Italian officers regarded him as a rough, rude 
man, always demanding impossibilities. 

Since he was always nominally under Italian command, 
disputes on the higher levels were inevitable. General Gari- 
baldi, with whom he first had to deal, he found a genial old 
gentleman, quite a good soldier and, what was more impor- 
tant to Rommel, prepared to let him have his way. General 
Bastico, whom he christened " Bombastico," was more 
troublesome. Though General Bayerlein described him as 
" nix " and " mil," Bastico had ideas of his own. After the 
Sidi Rezegh battle in December, 1941, he came over with 
Kcsselring to Gazala and quarrelled with Rommel about his 
intention of withdrawing to Agedabia. It would have a 
very bad effect in Italy and might cause a revolution. Rom- 
mel replied that he could guarantee only one thing, that he 
was going to get the Afrika Korps out. If the Italians liked 
to stay where they were, that was their affair. Conversely, 
there was Bastico's attempt to prevent the advance into 
Egypt, already mentioned in the last chapter. 

Then there was General Count Ugo Cavallero, Chief of 
Staff after the resignation of Badoglio in December, 1940. 
Because he spoke German as well as Italian and gave the 



156 ROMMEL 

* 

impression of a competent staff officer, Rommel was at 
first inclined to trust him. He was also dependent on him for 
his supplies. Ciano paints Gavallero's portrait with the 
loving care which one Italian gangster is always ready to 
lavish on another. " A perfect bazaar-trader who has found 
the secret way to Mussolini's heart and is ready to follow 
the path of lies, intrigue and imbroglio. He must be 
watched; a man who can bring great trouble to us. . . . 
Among the many insincere individuals that life puts into 
circulation every day, Cavallcro easily carries off the palm. 
. . . To-day, with his artificial, hypocritical and servile 
optimism, he was unbearable. ... A shameless liar. . . . He 
would bow to public lavatories if this would advance him. 
... A dangerous clown, ready to follow every German whim 
without dignity . . . the servant of the Germans . . . deli- 
berately deceiving the Ducc." When Mussolini proposed, 
after Rommel's promotion to Field-Marshal, to make 
Cavallcro one also, because otherwise he was "between 
Rommel and Kesselring, like Christ between the thieves/' 
Ciano protested. "Bastico's promotion," he said, "will 
make people laugh, Cavallero's will make them indignant." 

Lastly came the Duce himself. To any one still inclined 
to suppose that only dictatorships can get things done, be- 
cause only dictators know their own minds, it is instructive 
to study Mussolini's attitude towards Rommel, as recorded 
by Ciano. In May, 1941, having read an order of the day 
which Rommel is said to have addressed to the Italian divi- 
sional commanders, threatening to denounce them to mili- 
tary tribunals, he is considering a personal protest to Hitler. 
On December 5th, 1941, he is " so proud of having given 
the command to the Germans. . . ." On December 17th, 
when the battle went wrong, " he blames Rommel who, he 
believes spoilt the situation with his recklessness." By Feb- 
ruary 7th, 1 942, after Rommel's counter-attack, he " extols 
Rommel, who is always in his tank at the head of his attack- 
ing columns." On May 26th, " Mussolini now interests him- 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



157 



self only in the coming offensive in Libya and he is definitely 
optimistic. He maintains that Rommel will arrive at the 
Delta unless he is stopped, not by the British but by our 
own generals." On June 22nd, he is 41 in very good humour 
and preparing to go to Africa. In reality lie was the man 
behind the decisive attack, even against the opinion of the 
High Command. Now he fears that they may not realise the 
magnitude of the success and therefore fail to take advan- 
tage of it. He only trusts Rommel. . . ." Four days later he 
is M pleased over the progress of operations in Libya but 
angry that the battle is identified with Rommel, thus 
appearing more as a German than an Italian victory. Also 
Rommel's promotion to Field-Marshal, 'which Hitler evi- 
dently made to accentuate the German character of the 
battle,' causes the Duce much pain. Naturally he takes it 
out on Graziani 4 who has always been seventy feet under- 
ground in a Roman tomb at Cyrcne, while Rommel knows 
how to lead his troops with the personal example of the 
general who lives in his tank.' " On July 21st, he is in a 
good humour and is so certain of reaching the Delta that 
he has left his personal baggage in Libya. Still, he has 
"naturally been absorbing the anti-Rommel talk of the 
Italian commander in Libya." On the 23rd, he has 
44 realised that even Rommel's strategy has its ups-and- 
downs." By September 9th, he is 44 angry with Rommel," 
who has accused Italian officers of revealing plans to the 
enemy. On September 27th, he is " convinced that Rommel 
will not come back. He finds him physically and morally 
shaken." By January 5th, 1943, he has " only harsh words 
for Cavallero and for 4 that madman Rommel, who thinks 
of nothing but retreating in Tunisia.' " 

No Cavallero, Rommel was hardly up to dealing with 
dictators. He liked Mussolini when he first met him, pre- 
cisely because he seemed to be a man who knew his own 
mind and could give an order. Naively he imagined that 
Mussolini was his friend. He did not realise how quickly 



158 



ROMMEL 



II Duce's friendship shifted with the breeze of fortune. For- 
tunately Rommel could see a joke, even against himself. In 
1942 he was summoned to Rome to discuss supplies. When 
he entered that enormous room in the Palazzo Venezia he 
spotted, lying on the immense desk the insignia of the Italian 
order for valour. Rightly he guessed that it was intended 
for him. The discussion grew heated. When Rommel rashly 
said something disparaging about the Italian navy, Musso- 
lini glared at him. Then he seized the order, pulled open 
a drawer, flung it in and locked the desk. " It was a beauti- 
ful thing/' said Rommel ruefully. " Why couldn't I have 
kept: my silly mouth shut for another ten minutes? He 
couldn't very well have asked me to hand it back." 

There was something to be said on the Italian side, how- 
ever. Tact was not Rommel 1 s strong point. When he was 
about to make his counter-attack in January, 1942, he did 
not tell his Italian superiors about it, for fear there should 
be a " leak." He merely instructed his " Q " staff to pin up 
the orders for it in the Italian back-area messes after the 
advance had started. Since this was the first news the Italian 
General Staff had had of it they were understandably indig- 
nant. Rommel was sent for. He replied that he was in the 
front line but would be glad to see General Bastico there. 
General Bastico did not appear. Some days later Rommel 
was told that he proposed to withdraw all Italian troops. 
Rommel said that it was all the same to him if he did. This 
cost him his first decoration — and the affection of General 
Bastico. 

Feeling also ran high on the Italian side over the delicate 
matter of the division of loot. There was in existence an 
official agreement, drafted, one can only suppose, by 
Cavallero, under which the Italians were to hand over to the 
Germans everything they captured in Russia while the Ger- 
mans were to surrender to the Italians the spoils of war in 
North Africa. It is unlikely that the first head of the agree- 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



159 



ment was often invoked : the Italians complained bitterly of 
the non-observance by their allies of the second. *' There is 
violent indignation against the Germans because of their 
behaviour in Libya," writes Ciano in the summer of 1942. 
" They have grabbed all the booty. They have thrust their 
claws everywhere, placed German guards over the booty and 
woe to any one who comes near." No one can squeal more 
shrilly than the hijacked mobster and it was fortunate for 
Rommel that he was too much of a big shot and too well 
protected to be taken for a ride. What made Ciano even 
more furious was that " the only one who has succeeded in 
getting plenty for himself is Cavallero. . . ." 

The Axis allies were not, therefore, the best of bed- 
fellows. Nevertheless, in summing up the Italians to Man- 
fred, Rommel made a not ungenerous and refreshingly 
un-German remark. " Certainly they are no good at war," 
he said. " But one must not judge everyone in the world 
only by his qualities as a soldier : otherwise we should have 
no civilisation." 



XII. CIVIL WAR 

Towards his enemy, Rommel's attitude was one of 
friendly if sometimes suspicious hostility. Like all Germans, 
ne resented at first our employment of Indian divisions 
against Europeans, until he encountered 4th Indian Division 
and discovered that the Indian soldier was at least as well- 
disciplined and " correct " as any in the desert. He could 
not resist a mild sneer, for propaganda purposes, at the 
" coloured English " who accompanied the South Africans, 
though he knew very well that they were non-combatants. 
The Australians he considered rough, particularly with the 
Italians, but it was the sort of roughness which amused him 
and did not show " a bad heart." He ranked Australians 



160 



ROMMEL 



highly as individual fighting-men hut thought that they were 
inclined to get out of hand. He would have liked a division 
of them but remarked that an army of Australians would 
not be an easy command. The South Africans he considered 
good material but too raw, though he gave credit to their 
armoured cars and acknowledged that they later fought very 
well at Alamcin. For the New Zealanders he had a great 
and lasting admiration. They were, he always maintained 
to Manfred, Aldinger and others, the finest troops on our 
side. 

The British he respected — as promising amateurs. He 
even went so far as to admit that, for small, independent 
operations, requiring great personal initiative, such as those 
of the Long Range Desert Group and the S.A.S. (Special 
Air Service), they were better than the Germans, who would 
not have had the same confidence or shown so much enter- 
prise far behind the enemy lines. (It is fair to recall that the 
L.R.D.G. contained a high proportion of New Zealanders 
though it was organised and commanded by British regular 
officers.) British regular formations were, he thought, stub- 
born and brave in defence but insufficiently trained. He 
made an exception of 7th Armoured Division, particularly 
of the two Rifle battalions of the Support Group, the 11th 
Hussars and the artillery. Nevertheless he thought that in 
tank actions our armoured units and even single tanks were 
far too much inclined to go bald-headed into the attack. 
His criticism that we used armour in penny packets and thus 
invited its destruction in detail has been echoed by British 
military critics. The British system of command he 
naturally thought too slow, involved and clogged with 
paper. In spite of many inquiries I cannot discover that 
lie expressed any opinion about any individual British 
general except General Wavcll, whose campaign against the 
Italians would, he declared, always be studied as a supreme 
example of bold planning and daring execution with small 
resources. His assessment of his opponents was thus strictly 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



161 



professional and unemotional. He certainly did not hate or 
even dislike them : for New Zealanders, individually and 
collectively, he had almost an affection. 

" The war in North Africa was a gentleman's war," said 
General Johann Cramer, last commander of the Afrika 
Korps, to a correspondent of The Times, when it was all 
over. Rommel also took pride in the clean record of his 
troops (and of ours), for he had strong views on correct con- 
duct and the observance of the soldier's code. There was 
nothing remarkable about that. They were shared by the 
great majority of German regular officers, particularly those 
who were serving before 1933. In the higher ranks, there 
were only a few exceptions, the Keitels and the Jodls, who 
had sold out so completely to Hitler that they were prepared 
to transmit, even if they did not approve, his most out- 
rageous orders. 

To us this survival of chivalry came as a surprise. Know- 
ing nothing of the feud between the Party and the Wehr- 
macht, of the Nazis' jealousy of the Army, of the contempt 
of the officer class for the " brown scum," of the long, if 
weak-kneed, opposition of many generals to their Fuhrer, 
we naturally lumped all Germans together. In war it was 
perhaps as well to do so. Nations, by and large, get the 
governments they deserve. If they put up with Hitlers and 
Mussolinis they must take the consequences. Their enemies 
cannot be expected to draw nice distinctions between the 
wearers of different varieties of the same uniform. Never- 
theless it can now be conceded that, whatever it may have 
done in Poland and Russia, the regular German Army else- 
where fought a clean war. Strangely enough, it fought a 
cleaner one than in 1914-18. Perhaps because there was 
less hand-to-hand fighting, perhaps because the officers were 
on better terms with their men, perhaps because General von 
Seeckt and his successors had established a better tradition, 
there was none of the killing of prisoners which one remem- 
bers, on both sides, in World War I. (The fact that it was 

R. F 



162 



ROMMEL 



much easier in this war to be taken prisoner, through no 
fault of one's own, may also have had something to do with 

At any rate, it was quickly discovered by the British that 
the Afrika Korps proposed to fight according to the rules. 
For this the whole credit was given to Rommel. Since the 
Afrika Korps looked up to him for an example in every- 
thing, he undoubtedly deserved a large share of it. How- 
ever, he was lucky. " Thank God, we had no S.S. divisions 
in the desert," said General Bayerlein, " or Heaven knows 
what would have happened : it would have been a very 
different sort of war." He went on to tell me, what I for 
one had not realised, that, while a German general might 
have control of S.S. troops in the field during actual opera- 
tions, he had no powers of discipline over them whatsoever. 
His only remedy, even against an " other rank," was to re- 
port him, through the usual channels, to Himmler in person. 
The result was likely to be unsatisfactory. A general who 
saw, at a railway station, some S.S. men beating Russian 
prisoners with their rifle-butts, attempted to check the 
N.C.O. in charge. " And who are you?" asked the N.C.O. 
insolently. " A general of the Reichswehr." " We take no 
orders from generals of the Reichswehr; we are the S.S.. 
We take orders from Himmler!" He had, however, picked 
the wrong general. " In that case," said the general, " I 
must request you to step over to that tree because in three 
minutes' time I propose to hang you from it." Since the 
general had with him a train-load of his own troops, the 
N.C.O. apologised. " Within a fortnight," said the General, 
" I was told privately that Himmler had my name on his 
black-list." The name was, in fact, Fritz Bayerlein. ** Had 
the July 20th plot succeeded," he added, " there would have 
been civil war between the S.S. divisions and the Army in 
Italy." 

The Afrika Korps did not beat up prisoners. On the con- 
trary, after the first rough pounce, it treated them with 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



163 



almost old-world courtesy. At Gambut, soon after the open- 
ing of the May, 1942, battle, I met an Army Film Unit 
photographer, a Scot, who had just managed to escape after 
an hour or two in enemy hands. He was newly arrived from 
England, this was his first experience of action and he was 
highly indignant. "What like of people are these bluidy 
Germans, sir ?" he asked me. " I wad never ha' credited it. 
A German officer, an officer Ah'm tellin' ye, actually took 
ma camera off me an* wouldna give it back. . . . Never 
mind," he added more cheerfully, " Ah hae his receipt for 
it." So he had, on the back of an envelope, with name, rank 
and date. He proposed to look for the Oberlcutnant after 
the war. 

This was my favourite story, until 1 had the misfortune 
to be captured myself. I could then cap it with the young 
German who, after searching me, politely handed back a 
gold cigarette-case which he found in the pocket of my 
bush-shirt. He apologised for taking my field-glasses but 
explained that these were M Hilar gut whereas the cigarette- 
case was privat. Comparing notes with others in prison- 
camp I found that no one had any serious cause for com- 
plaint until after being handed over to the Italians. Since 
I still have my cigarette-case, I must have been lucky in my 
Italians also. I tried, however, not to expose them to the 
same temptation. 

Misunderstandings there were from time to time between 
Rommel and ourselves and some of them had unpleasant 
repercussions upon prisoners. Such misunderstandings were 
quite genuine and the fault was not always on the German 
side. For example, we published an order to the effect that 
prisoners should not be given a meal before being interro- 
gated. The intention was innocent enough. A prisoner is 
usually somewhat shaken when he is first captured and if he 
is interrogated immediately he may give away information 
of value. If, however, he has a meal and perhaps a cigarette, 
he has time to collect himself. The order meant no more 



164 



ROMMEL 



than that the meal should be postponed until after the 
investigation. The assumption was, I presume, that this 
might involve a delay of an hour or two. 

It was nevertheless unwise to put such an order on paper 
and still more unwise to circulate it in forward areas where 
it might fall into German hands. I did not realise quite how 
unwise until I reached Tmimi aerodrome, having spent 
twelve hours standing up in a truck, under a hot sun, with- 
out food or water. Having been captured 24 hours earlier 
and having had nothing to eat or drink for six or seven 
hours before that, I was looking forward to an evening meal 
and above all to water. We were paraded and addressed by 
a German officer in English. " I regret, gentlemen," he 
said, " that we are unable to give you anything to eat or 
drink. As your orders are that German prisoners shall be 
starved and deprived of water until they reach Cairo for 
interrogation, I am obliged to treat you in the same way. 
You will get nothing until you reach Benghazi and have 
been interrogated, unless the British Government see fit to 
cancel the order. They have been asked to do so." Pre- 
sumably the British Government did, since we were given 
a meal and a drink at Derna next morning. 

More serious might have been the consequences of an 
order found on a British commando officer captured during 
an unsuccessful raid on Tobruk in August, 1942. Whatever 
ks intention, as translated into Italian it gave the impression 
that, if prisoners could not conveniently be removed, they 
were to be killed. I have not seen the original text. I can 
only assume that it stressed that the infliction of casualties 
on the enemy was more important than the capture pf 
prisoners. The distinction is a little subtle, even in English. 
Staff officers who draft such orders should remember that 

» 

fine shades of meaning do not always survive translation. 
They should also remember that all orders are liable to fall 
into enemy hands and that those who suffer are their own 
countrymen in captivity. Many were manacled for months 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 165 

■ 

■ 

after the Dieppe raid, when our own orders for the hand- 
cuffing of German prisoners were captured. 

Hitler's famous'or infamous order of October 18th, 1942, 
was at least unequivocal : 

" From now on," said Para. 3, " all enemies on so-called 
Commando missions in Europe or Africa challenged by 
German troops, even if they are to all appearances soldiers 
in uniform or demolition troops, whether armed or un- 
armed, in battle or in flight, are to be slaughtered to the 
last man. It does not make any difference whether they 
are landed from ships and aeroplanes for their actions, 
or whether they are dropped by parachutes. Even if 
these individuals, when found, should apparently be pre- 
pared to give themselves up, no pardon is to be granted 
to them on principle. . . ." 

" This order does not apply,*' said Para. 5, to the treat- 
ment of any enemy soldiers who, in the course of normal 
hostilities (large-scale offensive actions, landing opera- 
tions and airborne operations), are captured in open battle 
or give themselves up." 

1 1 will hold responsible under Military Law," added 
the final paragraph, " for failing to carry out this order, 
all commanders and officers who either have neglected 
their duty of instructing the troops about this order or 
acted against this order where it is to be executed." 

The order was signed " Adolf Hitler " and was, therefore, 
<c top level." 

On June 18th, 1946, General Siegfried Westphal was 
questioned about it at Nuremberg : 

Question : " You were, on the African front ?" 

Answer: " More than a year and a half." 

Question: "How was the war conducted there?" 

Answer: " I can answer in a sentence : it was conducted 
in a chivalrous and irreproachable manner." 



166 



ROMMEL 



Question: "Who was your chief?" 
Answer: " Marshal Rommel." 

Question: "Did he ever order or sanction violation of 
the rules of war?" 
Answer: " Never." 

Question: " What position did you hold with him?" 

Answer: "I was head of the Operations Section and 
afterwards his Chief of Staff." 

Question: "You were, then, always in contact with 
him?" 

Answer: " I was in contact with him always, both per- 
sonally and on service matters." 

Question: " Do vou know the order issued by Hitler on 
October 1 8th. 1942?" 

Answer: "Yes." 

Question: "Did you receive this order ?' 5 

Answer: " Yes, we received it in the desert near Sidi 
Barrani, from a liaison officer." 

Question: " How did Marshal Rommel behave on re- 
ceipt of this order?" 

Answer: " Marshal Rommel and I read it standing be- 
side our truck. I then immediately proposed that we 
should not publish it. We burnt it at once, where we 
stood. Our reasons were as follows : The motives of the 
order, which T think you will find in the introductory 
paragraph,* were clear in themselves. We knew the British 
orders for hand-to-hand combat. We knew the slogan of 
EI Alamein : * Kill the Germans wherever you find them ' 
and various other aggravations of the war. We had also 
captured an order, issued by a British armoured brigade, 
according to which prisoners must not be given anything 

•" 1 . Our enemies have for a Ions time been adnptinv methods, in earryim? on the 
war, which are not in a.rcordancc with the International Conventions of Geneva. 
Particularly brutal and stralthy is the behaviour of the members of the so-called 
Commandos, which, as has been proved, are themselves in p..rt recruited from circles 
of released criminals in the enemy countries. Captured orders prove that they are 
instructed not only to shackle prisoners, but even to s'mply kill defenceless prisoners 
the moment they think that, in the future pursuit of the mission, these prisoners con- 
stitute a burden, or otherwise an inconvenience. Finally orders have been found in 
which the killing of prisoners has been ordered as a matter of principle.*' 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



167 



to drink. Nevertheless, we did not wish this order to reach 
our troops, for that would have led to an aggravation of 
the war of which it would have been impossible to foresee 
the consequences. That was why the message was burnt 
ten minutes after it was received. . . . But it was only on 
another continent that one could have got away with so 
blatant an act of disobedience. I do not think one could 
have done it in the east or the west.'" 

In fact, Rommel was very far from being the only Ger- 
man general who ignored this and similar orders. 

General Westphal was then questioned about the strange 
case of " the nephew of Field-Marshal Alexander " : 

Question: " Gould you briefly run through the case of 
the commando action in which the nephew of Field- 
Marshal Alexander took part ?" 

Answer: "In the autumn of 1942, a close relation of 
Field-Marshal Alexander was taken prisoner behind the 
German lines. He was wearing an Afrika Korps cap and 
was armed with a German pistol. He had thus put him- 
self outside the rules of war. Marshal Rommel gave the 
order that he should be treated like any other prisoner. 
The Marshal thought that he did not understand what 
might have been the consequences of his conduct.'* 

(What Rommel actually said when someone proposed that 
he should be shot, as he could legitimately have been, was : 
" What, shoot General Alexander's nephew ! You damned 
fool, do you want to make a present of another couple of 
divisions to the British Army?" In fact, the officer in ques- 
tion was no relation of Field-Marshal (then General) 
Alexander. If he said he was, Rommel and Westphal un- 
doubtedly swallowed his story, for Rommel related the 
incident to his family.) 

There are endless anecdotes about Rommel's treatment 
of our prisoners, all, so far as I have heard, to his credit. For 



168 



ROMMEL 



perhaps the best I am indebted to Brigadier G. H. Clifton, 
D.S.O., M.C., at the time of his encounters with Rommel a 
captured New Zealand brigade commander. 

Brigadier Clifton, christened "the flying kiwi," was a 
born escaper. When he joined us in Campo PG 29 he at 
once evolved a very bold plan which came tragically near 
to success. He lowered himself at night out of a second- 
story window into the smallest possible patch of shadow in 
the angle of a wall. The wall was actually on a sentry's beat. 
He stood face to the wall until the sentry moved away and 
then slid across the vard on his stomach and under a barbed 
wire fence. Travelling at high speed across country, he 
reached the nearest railway station, Ponte d'Olio, and took 
the first train in the morning to Milan. From the main 

station he crossed over by tram to the north station for the 
Como line and arrived in Como some time before he was 
missed at morning roll-call. At Como he made his fatal 
mistake. He proposed to follow the road past the Villa 
d'Este, as T did myself later on, and then cross over the 
mountains into Switzerland. To save time he hired a 
carriage at the station. When he was paving it of, there 
was a dispute about the fare. Two carabinieri, who had 
already been watching him with some suspicion, strolled 
over. That evening he was brought back to us. 

Removed to Campo PG 5, the " strafe " camp for inve- 
terate escapers, we heard that he had been seen standing 
on the roof, fired at by sentries from all sides. On his way 
to Germany, seated between two guards in a railway 
carriage, he contrived to dive through a window while the 
train was running* When I met Rommel's widow, almost 
the first question she asked me was, "Did you know 
Brigadier Clifton? Where is he and did he manage to 
escape? My husband always hoped he would get out of 
Italy. He had a great opinion of him." 

•He was severely wounded but on Mnrch 22nd, 1945, be escaped again: on April 
15 he was home in Auckland. N**w Zealand. 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



169 



Here, then, is Brigadier Clifton's story : 

" In the early hours of September 4th, 1942, I drove out 
into ' No-man's-land ' south of Alameyil Ridge, to tidy up 
someone else's night battle which had gone astray. It was 
before first light and a most confusing situation. As the 
result, we drove up to the wrong people, while looking for 
a forward company of my own brigade. The enemy con- 
cerned were Italian parachutists from the Folgerc Division 
and, for a few minutes, it looked as though we might return 
with fifty Italians instead of staying as their prisoners. The 
argument was settled against us, however, by the interven- 
tion of a German artillery officer who was acting as F.O.O. 
about 100 yards away. He came down, told the Italians 
not to be so-and-so fools and we went ' into the bag.' 

" About two hours later I arrived back at my old head- 
quarters in the Kaponga Box, now occupied by a swarm of 
Italians and a German paratroop battalion in reserve. It 
was only 7 o'clock in the morning but it seemed a lifetime 
since I left, expecting to return for breakfast. 

" Ten minutes later there was great excitement and an 
Intelligence Officer came across and told me that Rommel 
was arriving. Sure enough, three or four reconnaissance 
Vehicles came round the corner, headed by an enormous 
stafT car, with Rommel in person sitting up at the back. He 
stepped out to much saluting and clicking of heels. I noticed 
that he addressed himself first to the Italian colonel who 
was the senior officer in the area. 

" After a short discussion he then summoned the German 
major commanding the paratroops and a few minutes later 
I was called over and so met the famous Rommel for the 
first time. He was a short, stocky figure, running to waist- 
line and. obviously rather sensitive about it, but full of self- 
assurance and drive. Speaking in German, although he evi- 
dently understood English, he proceeded to harangue me 
about the * gangster' methods of the New Zea landers. It 
appeared that we had bayoneted the German wounded at 



ROMMEL 



Minqarqaim in the night battle behind Matruh and he was 
very much annoyed about it. He said that if we wanted to 
fight rough, so could they, and that any further action of 
this sort on our part would be answered by immediate 
reprisals. 

"As the nearest New Zealander available for such re- 
prisals it became a rather personal matter to me. I was, 
however, able to explain our point of view over the occur- 
rences of that famous night-attack. Our first wave, going 
through in the dark, caught the Germans by surprise. Some 
of them, lying on the ground, had fired or thrown bombs 
after the first company had passed. As a result, the supports 
following on simply stuck every man who failed to stand up 
and surrender. It is quite likely that some of the Germans 
were bayoneted several times by people in passing. 

" I explained what had happened. Whether it was the 
way I put it across I do not know but Rommel said, ' Well, 
that is reasonable and could happen in a night battle but . . .* 
He then went on to describe an incident in which a German 
wounded officer had been thrown into a burning truck. 

" After some discussion on this alleged incident he asked, 
4 Why are you New Zealanders fighting? This is a 
European war, not yours. Are you here for the sport?* 
Realising that he really meant this, and never having pre- 
viously faced up to putting into words the self-evident fact 
that if Britain fought we fought too, I held up my hands 
with the fingers closed and said, 'The British Common- 
wealth fights together. If you attack England you attack 
New Zealand and Australia too.' 'What about Ireland?' 
asked Rommel quickly. I had the answer to that one. A 
week or so earlier we had been given the figures of Southern 
Ireland volunteers in the fighting services. I believe their 
percentage to total population equalled any nation in the 
Commonwealth. 

" Rommel did not comment on this, wished me good luck 
and off he went to the battle, where his last offensive in 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



171 



Egypt was being very roughly handled. Six days later I 
escaped from Matruh but that is another story of a long 
walk and bad luck, which finished when T was recaptured 
on September 15th by three young panzer officers hunting 
gazelle ten miles west of the front at El Alamein. In due 
course, after being shot up by our own Hurri-hombers, a 
most embarrassing interlude, I was dumped at Rommel's 
headquarters for the second time. 

" The Marshal deigned to see me again, accompanied by 
the three lads who had picked me up and were expecting 
seven days special leave to Germany as a reward. (Inciden- 
tally, they were disappointed.) Rommel once more opened 
the conversation with strong comments on our 1 gangster ' 
methods, occasioned this time by a Flying Fortress high- 
level bombing attack on a hospital ship leaving Tobruk. He 
then said, 1 1 do not blame you for attempting to escape, it is 
your duty and I would have done the same if I were in your 
position.' 

"Appreciating his increasing waistline and tight boots 
and breeches, I replied : ' I am quite sure vou would try, sir, 
but I do not think you could have walked as far as I did.' 
(More than 100 miles in less than five days on one can of 
water.) Rommel came back very quickly with, ' No, I would 
have had more sense and borrowed a motor-car.' Trick to 
him. ' So would I, but with only twenty seconds start there 
was not much time, though we had a suitable vehicle 
marked down.' He then added that I was a nuisance and 
that any further attempt at a break would finish by my 
being shot while escaping. However he decided to get rid of 
me quickly by plane from Daba early next morning direct 
to Rome. 

" Germans are literally minded, in addition to having a 
tragic lack of humour. Rommel impressed me as an out- 
standing exception and that impression grew stronger with 
every senior German officer I had the misfortune to meet. 
On the occasions when he met our troops either as prisoners 



172 



ROMMEL 



■v 



or wounded he greeted them as one soldier meeting others 
and treated them very fairly. Brigadier Hargest, who was 
captured at Sidi Azeiz in late November, 1941, and was 
taken into Bardia by Rommel, formed the same impression. 
I think he comments on it in his book, Farewell Campo 12." 
(Brigadier Hargest was pulled up by Rommel for not 
saluting. " That did not prevent him from congratulating 
me on the fighting quality of my men," he wrote.) 

Clifton's story is creditable to both sides. 

Hospital-ships were a sore point with Rommel. He was 
indignant when he heard that the Royal Navy was pulling 
them into Malta for examination, furious when it was re- 
ported that they had been attacked by the R.A.F. at sea. 
Drafting a strong note of protest, he was somewhat shaken 
to learn that an Italian general, frightened of flying the 
Mediterranean, had taken a passage in a hospital-ship as a 
stretcher-case and had been removed, unwounded, at Malta. 
His final disillusionment came at a conference in July before 
El Alamein. Rommel was complaining bitterly about being 
halted for lack of petrol. Three tankers had just been sunk 
in two days. Gavallero reassured him. Other means had 
already been adopted to keep him supplied. Petrol was 
being sent over in the double-bottoms of hospital-ships! 
Rommel turned on him. " How can I protest against British 
interference with hospital-ships when you do things like 
that ?" he demanded. Cavallero was surprised and hurt. 

To sum up the spirit in which the desert war was fought, I 
may quote General von Ravenstein. " When I reached 
Cairo," he said, " I was received very courteously by 
General Auchinleck's A.D.C. Then I was taken to see 
General Auchinleck himself in his office. He shook hands 

■ 

with me and said : 1 1 know you well by name. You and 
your division have fought with chivalry. I wish to treat you 
as well as possible.' 

" Before I left Cairo I heard that General Campbell had 
been awarded the Victoria Cross. I asked and obtained per- 



SUCH WAS THE ENEMY 



173 



mission to write to him. I still have a copy of nay letter if 
it would interest you." 
The letter read : 

Abbasia, February 10th, 1942 
"Dear Major-General Campbell, 

" I have read in the paper that you have been my brave 
adversary in the tank battle of Sidi-Rezegh on November 
21-22, 1941. It was my 21st Panzer Division which has 
fought in these hot days with the 7th Armoured Division, 
for whom I have the greatest admiration. Your 7th 
Support Group of Royal Artillery too has made the fight- 
ing very hard for us and I remember all the many iron 
that flew near the aerodrome around our ears. 

" The German comrades congratulate you with warm 
heart for your award of the Victoria Gross. 

" During the war your enemy, but with high respect. 

" von Raven stein " 

"Jock" Campbell was killed soon afterwards, when his 
car overturned near Buq-Buq. I do not suppose he ever 
received the letter. If he had, I think he would have 
appreciated it. 

There are two opinions on the question of chivalry in 
war. General Eisenhower holds the other. " When von 
Arnim was brought through Algiers on his way to captivity," 
he writes in Crusade in Europe, "some members of my 
staff felt that I should observe the custom of bygone days 
and allow him to call on me. The custom had its origin in 
the fact that mercenary soldiers of old had no real enmity 
towards their opponents. Both sides fought for the love of 
a fight, out of a .sense of duty or, more probably, for money. 
A captured commander of the eighteenth century was likely 
. to be, for weeks or months, the honoured guest of his captor. 
The tradition that all professional soldiers are comrades-in- 
arms has, in tattered form, persisted to this day. 

" For me, World War II was far too personal a thing to 



174 



ROMMEL 



entertain such feelings. Daily as it progressed there grew 
within me the conviction that, as never before in a war be- 
tween many nations, the forces that stood for human good 
and men's rights were this time confronted by a completely 
evil conspiracy with which no compromise could be 
tolerated. Because only by the utter destruction of the Axis 
was a decent world possible, the war became for me a 
crusade. . . . 

" In this specific instance, I told my Intelligence Officer to 
get any information he possibly could out of the captured 
generals but that, so far as I was concerned, I was interested 
only in those who were not yet captured. None would be 
allowed to call on me. I pursued the same practice to the 
end of the war. Not until Field-Marshal Jodl signed the 
surrender terms at Rheims in 1945 did I ever speak to a 
German general, and even then my only words were that he 
would be held personally and completely responsible for 
the carrying out of the surrender terms." 

General Eisenhower is a wise and generous man, with 
whom no one would willingly disagree. Nevertheless, there 
are some who feel that even tattered traditions may be worth 
preserving if, when wars are over, we still have to live 
together in the same world. 



Chapter Nine 



THE END IN AFRICA 

We left Rommel, at the end of June, knocking, not very 
peremptorily, at the gates of Alexandria. He was now up 
against something hitherto unknown in the desert, a position 
that could not be turned. The British right flank rested on 
the sea, its left, forty miles south, on the " impassable 99 
quicksands of the Qattara Depression. (Randall Plunkett of 
the Guides Cavalry found himself unpopular with the plan- 
ning staff in Cairo when he succeeded in bringing his 
armoured cars across them from Siwa during the retreat.) 
Moreover, the position had been more thoroughly prepared 
for defence than the Germans imagined. 

The Eighth Army was, however, very far from being en- 
tirely on the defensive. The general impression in England, 
even to-day, seems to be that, having fallen back completely 
routed from the frontier, it remained cowed and cowering 
at El Alamein while a panic-stricken staff in Cairo burnt 
mountains of paper and made ready for a retreat into Pales- 
tine or East Africa. Then, so runs the popular legend, 
General Montgomery arrived out of the skies and, having 
re-created or, indeed, created it, at once turned defeat into 
victory. The legend is unfair to the Eighth Army : it is also 
contrary to the facts. At the beginning of July there was 
certainly " a bit of a flap." On what was locally known as 
Ash Wednesday, papers were indeed burnt. Some civilians 
and women were evacuated. The fleet left Alexandria, 
where it would have been too much exposed to bombing. 
In common prudence, preparations were made for the de- 
fence of the Delta, in case the Germans should succeed in 

175 



176 



ROMMEL 



breaking through the Alamein defences. There were even 
plans for a fighting retreat into Palestine and, if necessary, 
Iraq, should the Delta go too. Plans against any eventuality 
are always prepared by planning staffs. That is what they 
are there for. There were doubtless plans for the con- 
tinuance of the war from Canada, had it been necessary 
for the British Government to leave England. 

General AuchinJeck, however, had no more intention of 
abandoning El Alamein than had Mr. Churchill of leaving 
London. On the contrary, throughout July the Eighth Army 
continually attacked the enemy in an endeavour to recover 
the initiative from him and, if possible, to destroy him where 
he stood. The first attack was made on July 2nd, after Rom- 
mel had unsuccessfully attacked El Alamein itself on July 
1st. Close fighting continued for several days and it was 
only lack of reserves which brought the advance of 13th 
Corps to a standstill. On July 10th, 9th Australian Division 
captured the important position of Tel-el-Eisa, west of 
Alamein, and held it against heavy and repeated counter- 
attacks. On July 14th, the New Zealand Division and 5th 
Indian Infantry Brigade put in a night attack and gained 
ground on the vital Ruweisat Ridge. On the night of July 
16th, the Australians captured the El-Makh-Ahad ridge to 
the south. Rommel reacted strongly, for we had created a 
salient in his position. His attacks on the Ruweisat Ridge 
on July 18th and 19th were, however, repulsed. 

On July 21st, while the Australians attacked in the north, 
the New Zealand Division, supported by armour, was 
launched in the centre in an attempt to cut the enemy posi- 
tion in half. Our armour was defeated and the attempt 
failed, though valuable ground was gained. On July 26th 
another major attack was staged to the north from the Tel- 
el-Eisa salient. This again failed, in the face of heavy Ger- 
man counter-attacks, partly because the infantry failed to 
clear gaps through the enemy minefields so that the tanks 
could get forward, but mainly because there was a lack of 




THE EL A LAME IN POSITION 



178 



ROMMEL 



enough fresh, well-trained troops to maintain the impetus of 
the assault. 

On July 30th, General Auchinlcck reluctantly concluded 
that, with the troops he had, no further offensive operations 
were feasible at the moment. He expected to be able to 
return to the attack about the middle of September. By 
then he would have at his disposal 44th Division, just 
arrived from England and now being trained in desert war- 
fare, 8th Armoured Division, also newly arrived and being 
rearmed with American medium tanks, and 10th Armoured 
Division, retraining and re-equipping. In the event, in spite 
of strong pressure from the Cabinet, General Alexander, in 
consultation with General Montgomery, put back the date 
more than a month.* By that time General Montgomery 
had two extra British divisions and a mass of new tanks and 
guns such as the Eighth Army had never seen before. Since 
he made a complete job of it when he started, there is no 
doubt that the postponement was justified by the result. 
Nor is there any doubt that his supreme self-confidence and 
his gift of " the common touch " had an electric effect upon 
the troops. With the advantage of being a new broom, he 
inspired first curiosity, then interest, then admiration. The 
admiration was well-deserved. There is, however, no cause 
to magnify either his great victory or his great personal 
qualities by suggesting that the Eighth Army had ceased 
to exist as a fighting force when he took it over. It had, in 
fact, captured more than 7000 prisoners during July. It had 
stopped Rommel's advance to the Delta. It had paved the 
way for a major offensive which it was then too weak to 
undertake. 

There is a rather tragically ironical footnote to all this 
from the German side. " We were very much impressed and 
very much disturbed by the way you attacked us all through 
July," said General Bayerlein. " You very nearly succeeded 
in breaking through our position several times between the 

•Generals Alexander and Montgomery took over command on August 15th, 1942. 



THE END IN AFRICA 179 

■ 

10th and the 26th. If you could have continued to attack 
for only a couple of days more you would have done. July 
26th was the decisive day. We then had no ammunition at 
all for our heavy artillery and Rommel had determined to 
withdraw to the frontier if the attack was resumed." 

Personal reputations apart, it was a very good thing for 
us and a very bad thing for Rommel that it was not resumed. 
Once back on the escarpment, with his communications 
shortened and in a naturally strong defensive position, he 
would have needed a great deal of " winkling out.'* In all 
probability he would have escaped the overwhelming defeat 
which overtook him, since there would have been no politi- 
cal or psychological objection to withdrawing farther from 
the frontier, as there was to any withdrawal at all from El 
Alamcin. In any case his fate must have been postponed, 
for our build-up, nearly three hundred miles to the west- 
ward, would have taken much longer to prepare. Indeed, 
it could hardly have been completed before the British and 
American landings in North Africa on November 8th. In 
that case Rommel must have seen the red light and retired 
to Tunisia in his own time. 

Why did he not withdraw as soon as he realised that he 
could not break straight through to Cairo? The answer 
given by various critics both on the German and on our 
aide is that he was ignorant of logistics. " His obvious weak- 
nesses in the administrative field should deprive him of any 
lasting recognition as a great general," asserts Milton Shul- 
man in Defeat in the West. Liddeil Hart remarks, more 
mildly, that " a definite defect was his tendency to disregard 
the administrative side of strategy." These criticisms seem 
to stem directly from Rommel's reply to Haider's question 
regarding supplies: "That's your problem," rather than 
from any positive evidence of his failure to appreciate the 
importance of logistics. The supply problem was, in fact, 
the problem of the German and, primarily, of the Italian 
High Command. Isolated in his desert headquarters, Rom- 



180 



ROMMEL 



niel could do no more than say what he needed and try to 
insist that he be given it. He could not fly over and earmark 
the shipping. He could not compel the Italians to surrender 
the petrol which was said to be lying about in profusion in 
Southern Italy but which in fact they could not spare even 
for their own fleet. He could not order away German divi- 
sions from France, though they were serving no useful pur- 
pose there, since it was obvious that an invasion could not 
be attempted in 1942. He could only argue, demand and 
protest. That he did unceasingly, to the annoyance of the 
Italians and of his own Army Command. He was not in the 
happy position of General "Eisenhower when he wished to 
concentrate a corps east of Tebessa during the operations in 
North Africa the next year. "Logistics staffs opposed my 
purpose. . . . They wailed that our miserable communica- 
tions could not maintain more than an armoured division 
and one additional regiment. ... I nevertheless ordered the 
concentration of the corps of four divisions to begin and 
told the logistics people they would have to find a way to 
supply it." That was their problem and no one has argued 
that General Eisenhower was ignorant of logistics. 

There is another passage from Crusade in Europe which 
is worth quoting in this context because it shows what can 
be done when there are quick brains and willing hands at 
the shore end : 

" As a result of splendid action in Washington an extra 
shipment of 5400 trucks has been brought into the theatre. 
The shipment immeasurably improved our transport and 
supply position and had a profound effect in all later 
operations. It was accomplished under circumstances that 
should give pause to those people who picture the War 
and Navy Departments as a mass of entangling red tape. 
The shipment demanded a special convoy at a time when 
both merchant shipping and escort vessels were at a pre- 



THE END IN AFRICA 



181 



i mum. General Somervell happened to be visiting my 
headquarters and I explained to him our urgent need for 
this shipment. He said that he could be loading it out of 
American ports within three days, provided the Navy 
Department could furnish the escorts. I sent a query to 
Admiral King, then in Casablanca, and within a matter 
of hours had from him a simple 1 Yes/ The trucks began 
arriving in Africa three weeks after I made my initial 
request." 

At his home base, until September 1942, Rommel had 
General Haider "unable to restrain a slightly impolite 
smile " when he was asked for help. 

Had Rommel's request been entirely unreasonable or had 
he been told that, reasonable or not, they could not be com- 
plied with because of other commitments, there would have 
been no excuse for his persistence. In fact, he could easily 
have been given, early in 1942, the little extra he needed to 
take Cairo. All the troops and supplies w*uld, at that time, 
have reached him in safety. In the late summer of 1942, 
when the British had recovered control of the Central Medi- 
terranean and convoys could not pass Malta with impunity, 
he was still fobbed off by Kesselring and Cavallero with 
promises that his forces would be made up and his supply 
problems solved. On August 27th, just before the. Alam-el- 
Halfa battle, there was a meeting at which they both 
guaranteed Rommel 6000 tons of petrol, 1000 tons of which 
were to be air-lifted. " That is my condition : the whole 
battle depends on it," said Rommel. " You can go on with 
the battle," replied Cavallero, "it is on its way." Such 
assurances should not have been given, least of all by 
Kesselring. Better than any one else, he knew the effect of 
the arrival of Spitfires in Malta. 

Rommel -s own staff suspected Kesselring of "double- 
crossing " him, of continually reporting against him and the 



182 



ROMMEL 



Afrika Korps to Goering, while assuring the Army Com- 
mand that all was going well in North Africa. I have been 
told that this is unfair to Kesselring, who could act only 
through the Italians. Nevertheless, Ciano, on September 
9th, 1942, speaks of Kesselring " running to Berlin to com- 
plain of Rommel." Only a week earlier Cavallero was 
" repeating his optimistic declarations and saying that 
within a week the march (to the Delta) will be resumed." 
Probably Ciano's own shrewd comment sums it up best : 
" Victory always finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an 
orphan." The fact remains that Kesselring, as Commander- 
in-Chief South from April, 1 942, was Rommel's immediate 
superior and could have ordered him not to advance to El 
Alamein, not to attack, or to withdraw. 

At the end of July, General Auchinleck had correctly 
judged that Rommel must attack before the end of August. 
He added, in his appreciation, that he would " hardly be 
strong enough to attempt the conquest of the Delta except 
as a gamble and under very strong air cover," since only in 
armour was he likelv to have any superiority. In fact Rom- 
mel fought the battle of Alam-el-Halfa, which began on 
August 31st, under many disadvantages, besides that of 
having to attack an enemy in prepared defensive positions. 
Though he was slightlv superior in numbers, six of his divi- 
sions were Italian. These had to be stiffened with his only 
German reinforcements, 164th Infantry Division and the 
Ramcke Parachute Brierade of four battalions. In guns and 
armour he had no superiority at all. The R.A.F. held com- 
plete command of the air. The nature of the Alamein posi- 
tion was such that it was almost impossible to achieve sur- 
prise or to profit bv skill in manoeuvre. Lastly, he was him- 
self so ill with an infection of the no«e and a swollen liver, 
probably the result of neglected jaundice, that he could not 
get out of his truck. For one who relied much more on his 
personal observation and judgment during the progress of 



THE END IN AFRICA 



183 



a battle than on a preconceived plan, this was perhaps the 
greatest handicap of all. 

Rommel attempted to achieve a decision in the only way 
in which it could have been achieved, by feinting in the 
north, making a holding attack in the centre and staging 
his main effort in the south. His intention was to penetrate 
above the Qattara Depression and then strike north to the 
sea. By this means he hoped to turn die whole position, 
just as he had turned the Gazala Line three months before. 
Had he succeeded the Eighth Army would have been 
trapped and its communications cut. 

Unfortunately for Rommel, this was precisely what 
General Alexander and General Montgomery had deduced 
that he would do. General Montgomery had also seen, im- 
mediately on his arrival in the desert, that the answer was 
to refuse his left flank, fortify the Alam-el-Halfa Ridge, 
which Rommel dare not by-pass, and lead his armour on to 
its defences. He had, therefore, called up the whole of 44th 
Division, entrenched it on the ridge and dug in artillery and 
tanks to support it. He had also cunningly allowed a 
"going" map to be captured which showed good going 
south of Alam-el-Halfa where in fact there was very soft 
sand. 

To do Rommel justice, his Fingers pitzengefiihl came into 
play at once, even when he was lying helpless in his truck. 
" He wanted to break off the battle the first morning," said 
Bayerlein, " as soon as it was obvious that we had not 
achieved a surprise. It was I who persuaded him to let me 
continue." (Bayerlein was then temporarily commanding 
the Afrika Korps, General Nehring having been wounded 
on the night of August 31st in an air attack.) " The strength 
of the defences of the Alam-el-Halfa Ridge came as a com- 
plete surprise to me," added General Bayerlein. " I made 
sure I could take it and went on attacking it much too 
long." 



184 



ROMMEL 



When I showed him the passage in Alan Moorehead's 
biography in which he describes how General Montgomery 
pui his finger on Alam-el-Halfa almost as soon as he looked 
at the map, Bayerlein shook his head ruefully. " Excellent, 
excellent," he murmured, with the respect of one profes- 
sional for another. "That was very good generalship 
indeed."* 

Bayerlein gave the rest of the credit to the R.A.F. " We 
were very heavily attacked every hour of the day and night," 
he said, ** and had very heavy losses, more than from any 
other cause. Your air superiority was most important, per- 
haps decisive." He added a rude remark or two about 
Kesselring, whose promises had apparently included com- 
mand of the air by the Luftwaffe. 

His gamble having failed, on September 3rd Rommel 
began to withdraw. Wisely, General Montgomery did not 
attempt to follow him up. He could afford to wait. 

Three weeks later, for the first time in his life except when 
he was wounded, Rommel was compelled to report sick and 
fly to Germany for treatment. Before going into hospital at 
Zemmering, he had an interview with Hitler at his head- 
quarters. He told the Fuhrer that Panzer Group Afrika was 
standing in front of the door of Alexandria but that it was 
impossible to push it open unless they were reinforced and 
the supply position improved. Above all, they could do 
nothing without petrol. (Giano notes in his diary on Sep- 
tember 2nd that " three of our oil-tankers have been sunk 
in two days," on September 3rd that " the sinkings of our 
ships continues; to-night there have been two," and on 
September 4th that " two more ships have been sunk 
to-night.") 

Rommel received another assurance, this time from the 

m 

highest authority. " Don't worry," said Hitler, " I mean to 
give Africa all the support needed. Never fear, we are going 

*Thr <torv terms to have been «omewhai over-dramntised. The Alam-el-Halfa 
position had already been mined ami prepared, to some extent* for defence before 
General Montgomery arrived. lie developed an existing plan. 



THE END IN AFRICA 



to get Alexandria all right." He then volunteered a story 
that very small shallow-draught vessels, like landing-craft, 
were already in mass production, especially for Africa, and 
that some two hundred of them would be available almost 
immediately. They were to be armed with two 88 mm. guns 
each and would be much more difficult targets than tankers. 
They would be able to slip over at night and by means of 
them the petrol problem would be solved. No reference to 
these craft is to be found in the minutes of the Fuhrer Con- 
ferences on Naval Affairs for 1942, but Hitler may have 
referred to light craft called, after their inventor, Siebel- 
fachren. These were quite unsuited for work in a seaway, 
such of them as existed were mostly in dock for repairs and 
there was no question of their being in mass production. 
Hitler, as usual, was letting his imagination run away with 
him. 

This was not all. After the interview, he took Rommel out 
and showed him the prototype of the Tiger tank and of the 
Nebelwerfer, the formidable multiple mortar which we en- 
countered later in Italy. These were afco in mass production 
and Africa was first priority for deliveries. In fact, said 
Hitler, quantities of Nebelwerfer would be sent over at once 
by air, all available air-transport being used for the purpose. 
Incidentally, there was a new secret weapon of such appall- 
ing power that the blast ** would throw a man off his horse 
at a distance of over two miles." 

Rommel laughed about this last embellishment. Yet Hitler 
may not have been talking so wildly. Tn the first atomic 
bomb test in New Mexico, a building four miles from the 
blast centre was moved two feet off its concrete foundation. 

For the rest, Rommel, having seen the Tiger tank and the 
Nebelwerfer took his Fiihrer's promises seriously. The fact 
that he did so no doubt explains an optimistic speech which 
he made to foreign journalists in Berlin on October 3rd. 
In if he predicted that the Germans would soon be in Alex- 
andria. (General von Thoma, who saw him for a few days 



186 



ROMMEL 



before he left North Africa, formed the impression that he 
was not really confident but spoke with confidence to im- 
press the troops, particularly the Italians. That was, how- 
ever, before his interview with Hitler.) It was not until about 
a fortnight later that Rommel began to have doubts. He 
confided them to his wife. " I wonder if he told mc all that 
to keep me quiet," he said reflectively. For the first time 
he was vaguely suspicious of the Fuhrer. 

Meanwhile it had been decided at the same interview 
that Rommel should not go back to North Africa. When he 
came out of hospital, he was to be given an Army Group in 
the southern Ukraine. General Stumme would replace him 
in command of Panzer Group Afrika. Hitler was solicitous 
about his health; a change of climate would do him good, 
he said. It may well be that he did not want his own decep- 
tions to be discovered. 

Then, when Rommel was still in hospital at Zeinmering, 
Hitler telephoned to him personally at noon on October 
24th. " Rommel, there is bad news from Africa," he said. 
**The situation looks very black. No one seems to know 
what has happened to Stumme. Do you feel well enough 
to. go back and would you be willing to go?" Rommel had 
had only three weeks' treatment. He was still a very sick 
man and in no condition to return to the desert and fight a 
desperate battle. It never occurred to him to refuse : his 
heart was with the Afrika Korps. He left next morning at 
seven by air, stopped in Italy for a conference with Rintelen 
about petrol supplies, landed in Crete and was in head- 
quarters in North Africa by 8 p.m. 

When he arrived the battle was already lost. " Alamein 
was lost before it was fought," said General Cramer. " We 
had not the petrol." "Rommel could do nothing," said 
General Bayerlein, who had been on leave and followed two 
days afterwards. " He took over a battle in which all his 
reserves were already committed. No major decisions which 
could alter the course of events were possible." 



THE END IN AFRICA 



187 



Incredible though it seems, the German Intelligence Ser- 
vice was firmly of the belief that the British could not 
possibly attack during October. An officer from Army Com- 
mand headquarters was specially sent over at the beginning 
of the month to say so. No wonder the unfortunate General 
Stumme died of heart failure twenty-four hours after 
General Montgomery's bombardment opened. (It appears 
that he fell or jumped out of his car during a British air 
attack without the driver noticing. The car returned with- 
out him and he was later found dead.) 

In justice to Stumme it should be said that he had in- 
herited the defence scheme from Rommel. Bayerlein assures 
me that the latter had arranged every detail of the disposi- 
tions before leaving Africa. That he took the very unusual 
course, for him, of splitting his armour with 15th Panzer 
Division in the extreme north and 21st Panzer Division in 
the south, both too close behind the line and both sub- 
divided into battle groups, can only have been due to his 
distrust of the Italian divisions, who held the greater part 
of it. 

His distrust was justified. Cowed by the fire of more than 
a thousand guns, attacked incessantly from the air, the 
Italians had little fight left in them when the attack was 
launched. But for the German infantry and paratroops in- 
terspersed amongst them, they would have broken more 

quickly than they did. 

This time General Montgomery was greatly superior in 
numbers and immensely so in tanks, guns and ammunition. 
El Alamein was an old-fashioned battle of material. Yet it 
was far from mere " ironmonger ing." It was preceded by a* 
most elaborate cover plan. To suggest an attack in the 
south, while concealing the preparations for the real attack 
in the north, and at the same time to make it appear that 
arrangements in the south were still incomplete, the most 
elaborate and ingenious measures were taken. Hundreds of 
dummy vehicles were placed over tanks in the assembly 



138 



ROMMEL 



areas; dummy lorries were parked in gun-positions so that 
the guns could be moved in at night and hidden under 
them; dummy tanks and dummy guns replaced the real 
articles in the staging areas as they went forward; mock 
dumps were started in the southern area and built up so 
slowly that they could not be ready until November; a fake 
wireless network was operated there with fake messages; a 
dummy pipeline, with dummy petrol stations and reservoirs, 
was built in the wrong direction and deliberately not com- 
pleted; the movement of every vehicle was controlled to 
guard against tell-tale tracks in the sand. Aided by the fact 
that the R.A.F. allowed the Luftwaffe little chance of air 
reconnaissance and by the entirely wrong information sup- 
plied by the German Intelligence, the deception was so 
successful that the date of the attack, the direction of the 
main thrust and the location of the armour were completely 
hidden from the Germans. This involved the physical con- 
cealment in 13th Corps area to the north of two extra divi- 
sions, 240 guns, 150 extra tanks, to say nothing of such items 
as 7500 tons of petrol. 

" It was not until D plus 3 that the enemy finally con- 
centrated all his resources against our real attack," writes 
Field-Marshal Alexander. D plus 3 (October 26th) was the 
day that Rommel took over and it is interesting to speculate 
whether he would have been so thoroughly deceived had he 
been in North Africa all through October. That he would 
have placed any reliance on German Intelligence reports is 
unlikely, for he had the lowest opinion of them. 
h . . To Bayerlein alone he admitted that the battle was lost. 
The admission did not deter him from making a desperate 
attempt to restore it. In the north, 15th Panzer Division 
had already been badly mauled by being thrown in piece- 
meal against the strong concentrations of 10th Armoured 
Corps. Gathering up the survivors, bringing up 21st Panzer 
Division by a forced march from the south, ordering forward 



THE END IN AFRICA 



189 



90th Light, Rommel was planning a counter-offensive 
within a few hours of his arrival — and against the right spot, 
the British salient in the north. Two days previously he had 
been in a hospital bed in Zemmering : that afternoon, with 
the sun behind him, he was leading a mass tank attack of 
the two staunch divisions which had so often followed him. 
He knew the ground. He had had time for reflection in the 
aircraft flying south. Nevertheless it was a quick apprecia- 
tion and a gallant effort. 

The attack was broken up by artillery fire and air bom- 
bardment before it could get to grips. It was renewed the 
next day and beaten off by the 2nd Rifle Brigade and the 
Australians. Rommel had suffered losses in tanks which he 
had no hope of replacing. Determined and savage fighting 
followed when the 9th Australian Division thrust north- 
wards again and took on successfully the pick of the German 
troops. 

Then General Montgomery switched the direction of his 
attack. In the early hours of November 2nd he struck far- 
ther south, at the junction between the Germans and the 
Italians. The infantry broke through on a 4000-yard front 
and opened the road for the armour. It was no easy passage. 
9th Armoured Brigade lost 87 tanks to Rommel's usual 
screen of anti-tank guns. 1st Armoured Division, coming 
through the gap, were set upon by 21st Panzer Division. 
" The enemy fought with the certain knowledge that all was 
at stake and with all the skill of his long experience in 
armoured fighting." At one moment he almost broke 
through our salient. " Operation Supercharge " was, how- 
ever,, the beginning of the end. That night Rommel decided 
1q withdraw. He might still have got out most of the Ger- 
mans with the transport he had. The Italians would have 
fiad tp walk, but most of them would have preferred to sur- 
render rather than suffer the attentions of the R.A.F. on 
the long road home. On November 3rd, when the with- 



190 



ROMMEL 



drawal had already started, came an order from O.K.H., the 
German Army Command. " The position requires," it read, 
" that the El Alamcin position be held to the last man. There 
is to be no retreat, not so much as one millimetre ! Victory 
or death !" It was signed " Adolf Hitler." 

For once Rommel was caught in two minds. 11c knew 
that the order was ridiculous and that to obey it must make 
greater disaster certain. Yet it was so explicit that he felt 
that it could not be disregarded. Against Bayerlein's advice 
he caused it to be circulated to the troops. General von 
Thoma, commanding the Afrika Korps, asked to be allowed 
to retire to Fuka and Daba. Rommel would not give him 
permission. Von Thoma nevertheless withdrew his troops 
during the night. " I cannot tolerate this order of Hitler," 
he said. Rommel turned a blind eye. 

Next morning von Thoma went out to confirm a report, 
which Rommel refused to believe, that British columns had 
broken through in the south and were already west of the 
Germans. At noon, General Bayerlein, having had no word 
from von Thoma, drove out in his command car to look for 
him. As he approached the Tel-el-Mansr position, heavy 
fire forced him to leave his car and make for the ridge on 
foot. When he was within two hundred yards of it he saw 
the general standing beside his burning tank. British tanks 
(they were, in fact, the 10th Hussars), ringed him round. All 
the German tanks and anti-tank guns on the position had 
been destroyed. Bayerlein waited until he saw British 
carriers drive up to von Thoma and carry him off. Then he 
himself withdrew unobserved. When he arrived back at 
headquarters, south of Daba, he and Rommel heard the 10th 
Hussar troop leaders talking about having captured a Ger- 
man general. That night General von Thoma dined with 
General Montgomery in his headquarters mess and invited 
the Eighth Army Commander to stay with him in Germany 
after the war. These mutual courtesies were criticised in 



THE END IN AFRICA 191 

England. They were not regarded as out of place in Africa. 

Next morning Bayerlein attained his ambition of com- 
manding the Afrika Korps, just when it had virtually ceased 
to exist. " What can I do in face of this order of Hitler's?" 
he asked Rommel. " I cannot authorise you to disobey it," 
said Rommel with unusual diplomacy. But there could be 
no more question of obeying it if any one was to be saved. 

For the moment, with the shock of defeat coming on top 
of his illness, Rommel was a broken man. Nevertheless., 
though his staff found him more than ordinarily difficult to 
deal with, he conducted the retreat with great skill. This 
time he had no hope of turning on his pursuers. His remain- 
ing force amounted to little more than a composite division : 
eighty German tanks were left against nearly six hundred 
British. He could only save what he might out of the wreck. 
He was lucky to save anything at all. Had not heavy rain 
come on the night of November 6th, turning the desert into 
a morass and preventing the movement of the troops sent 
to cut him off, he would have been encircled at Matruh. 
Had the R.A.F. had the technique of "ground strafing," 
wfiich it later acquired, he would not have got that far. Had 
air transport been developed as General Slim developed it in 
the much more difficult conditions of Burma, completely- 
equipped forces would have been dropped well behind him 
. and supplied by air. General Montgomery has also been 
criticised by both sides for being too cautious. " I do not 
think General Patton would have let us get away so easily," 
said Bayerlein, who, having fought in France afterwards, 
compared Patton with Guderian and Montgomery with von 
Rundstedt. He added, however, that " the best thing Rom- 
mel ever did in North Africa was this retreat." As the Eighth 
Army covered the seven hundred miles from El Alamein to 
Benghazi in fifteen days and as this time Rommel was not 
allowed to stand at El Agheila, there is, perhaps, not much 
room for criticism of either commander. 



192 



ROMMEL 



On November 8th came the Allied landings in North 
Africa. Tripoli at once became of minor importance. Rom- 
mel received no reinforcements but they were poured into 
Tunisia by sea and air. Six months later they were all 
prisoners. Of the many bitter pills which Rommel had to 
swallow, before the last, one of the bitterest must have been 
to see what the German High Command could do in a lost 
cause and to compare it with what they had failed to do in 
support of a winning one. In November two regiments of 
airborne troops and an engineer battalion were flown in. 
They were followed by odd infantry units, tanks and 
artillery and formed into a scratch division. By the middle, 
of December, 10th Panzer Division had arrived. Another 
infantry division, 334th, was brought over in the latter half 
of the month. A Grenadier regiment came from Crete. 
There appeared also a heavy tank battalion, the 501st, 
armed with the new Tiger tanks which Rommel had been 
promised. The redoubtable Hermann Goering Panzer Divi- 
sion was on its way. Other German units, apart from various 
Italian formations, were added before the end to swell the 
Allied game-bag. What could not Rommel have done with 
half of this force five or six months earlier? 

There is no profit in following Rommel's retreat or the 
advance of the Eighth Army through Tripolitania. With his 
25,000 Italians, his 10,000 Germans and his sixty tanks, he 
was steadily and relentlessly pushed back. All the way he 
made the most skilful use of mines, road demolitions arid 
booby-traps to slow up his enemy. Often his German rear- 
guards had to fight desperately to extricate themselves, for 
this time he sent the Italians on ahead. Temptingly strong 
defensive positions had to be abandoned because he had not 
the troops to hold them. 90th Light Division made a stand 
outside Tripoli itself, but Rommel's old victims at St. 
Valery, 51st Highland Division, riding in on the back of 
tanks, turned them out in a moonlight attack. Tripoli, was 
occupied without any further resistance. On January 23rd, 



THE END IN AFRICA 



193 



the 11th Hussars, who had struck the first blow across the 
frontier wire when Italy came into the war, drove into the 
city at dawn. 

There is no greater test of troops or a commander than a 
long retreat, nothing which so quickly breaks the spirit as 
the knowledge that one must fight only to be able to with- 
draw. Rommel was sick at heart as well as in body. It was 
during the retreat that he learnt how loyalty to his Fuhrer 
was rewarded. At the end of November he was summoned 
home for an interview. Hitler treated him, for the first time, 
to one of his famous scenes. Rommel had told him that the 
position in North Africa was hopeless and that it would be 
better to sacrifice what was left of the material and get the 
Afrika Korps out to fight again in Italy. Hitler said that he 
was a defeatist and that he and his troops were cowards. 
Generals who had made t\\e same sort of suggestion in 
Russia had been put up against the wall and shot. He would 
not yet do that to Rommel but Rommel had better be care- 
ful. As for Tripoli, it was to be held at all costs for other- 
wise the Italians would make a separate peace. Rommel 
asked him whether it was better to lose Tripoli or the Afrika 
Korps. Hitler shouted that the Afrika Korps did not matter. 
For the first time, Rommel told his family, he realised 
Hitler's contempt for the whole German people and the fact 
that he cared nothing for the men who fought for him. 
Nevertheless he answered back. Let Hitler come out to 
Africa and see for himself or let him send some of his en- 
tourage to show them how to do it. " Go !" screamed Hitler, 
" 1 have other things to do than talk to you." Rommel 
saluted and turned on his heel. After he had shut the door, 
Hitler came running after him and put his arm on his shoul- 
der. " You must excuse me," he said, " I'm in a very ner- 
vous state. But everything is going to be all right. Gome 
and see me to-morrow and we will talk about it calmly. It 
is impossible to think of the Afrika Korps being destroyed." 

Rommel saw him next day, with Goering. " Do anything 

R. O 



194 



ROMMEL 



you like," said Hitler to Goering, " but see that the Afrika 
Korps is supplied with all that Rommel needs.*' " You can 
build houses on mc" said Goering in the German phrase, 
" I am going to attend to it myself." 

The Reichmarshal took Rommel with him in his special 
train to Rome and invited Frau Rommel to go with them. 
When they met at Munich station Goering was wearing a 
grey semi-civilian suit with grey silk lapels. His tie was 
secured by a large emerald clip. The case of his watch was 
studded with emeralds. On one of his fingers, to Rommel's 
horror, was a ring with an enormous diamond. More horri- 
fying still, his nails were varnished. Goering displayed the 
ring to Frau Rommel at the first opportunity. "You will 
be interested in this," he said, " it is one of the most valuable 
stones in the world." This was the first time Frau Rommel 
had met the Reichmarshal. She, too, was startled. In the 
train he spoke only of pictures. " They call me the Maecenas 
of the Third Reich," he said, and described how Balbo had 
sent him a statue of Aphrodite from Cyrene. North Africa 
was not otherwise mentioned during the journey, and 
Goering resisted all Rommel's attempts to turn the conver- 
sation from statues to supplies. However, he gave Rommel 
the Fluggevfuhrerabzeichen, the Air Force pilot's cross, in 
diamonds, and seemed to think that that should satisfy him. 

In Rome, where they stopped at the Excelsior, it was the 
same story. " Goering did nothing but look for pictures and 
sculpture," said Rommel with profound contempt. " He 
was planning how to fill his train with them. He never tried 
to see any one on business or to do anything for me." To 
Frau Rommel, Goering remarked that her husband seemed 
very depressed. " He is not normally so," she replied. " As 
a rule he is very optimistic. But he takes a very realistic 
view." " Ah !" said Goering, 11 he does not comprehend the 
whole situation as I do. We are going to look after him, we 
are going to do everything for him." He then went off into 
a long and boastful monologue about his own achievements, 



THE END IN AFRICA 



195 



past, present and future. He appeared to Frau Rommel to 
be on the verge of megalomania. Contrasting this extra- 
ordinary figure with the shrewd and capable Gocring who 
appeared before the judges at Nuremberg, one wonders 
whether, at this period, he had not gone back to morphia. 
Apart from art, his only interest seemed to be his model rail- 
way. He was photographed in a guard's uniform with a 
green flag. The story was all over Rome that he had gone 
to a party dressed in a toga. Rommel put up with it for 
three days. Then he said : *' I'm doing no good over here — 
only losing my temper : I'd better get back to the Afrika 
Korps." 

He flew off next day, convinced that Goering was mad 
and Hitler not much better. It was the second stage of his 
disillusionment. 

Though Tripoli fell in defiance of the Fiihrer's wishes, this 
was not the end of Rommel in North Africa. His title had 
changed three times during 1942. Up to January 21st he 
was still commander of the Panzer Croup Africa. Then he 
became supreme commander of the Panzer army in Africa 
and held this appointment until October 24th. On his 
return to El Alamein on Stummc's death he arrived with the 
title of supreme commander of the German-Italian Panzer 

§ 

Army. On February 22nd the Army Group Africa was 
formed and he was given command of it. It consisted of 
5th Panzer Army, under General von Arnim, composed of 
the new forces which had been rushed to Tunisia, and of 1st 
^Italian) Army under General Messe, comprising the two 
Italian Corps, 20th and 21st, and the Afrika Korps, which 
had been driven out of Libya. The 1 st Italian Army was, in 
fact, the German-Italian Panzer Army under a new name. 
Thus, instead of being " put up against a wall and shot," he 
was promoted to command all the Axis forces in Tunisia. 
The German High Command still believed that it would be 
possible to retain a bridgehead around Tunis and Bizerta 
and keep a large Allied army immobilised, as at Salonica in 



196 



RO M MEL 



the first war. It is surprising that the command should have 
been given to Rommel, who believed nothing of the sort 

Nevertheless, even before being gazetted to his new 
appointment, he showed a real flash of his old form. From 
Tripoli he had retired to the Mareth Line. This was an 
immensely strong position, another but more elaborately 
prepared El Alamein. The French, who had fortified it as 
an African Maginot Line against any Italian advance from 
Libya, considered it impregnable by frontal attack. It could 
not be turned, they said, because the going to the west was 
fC incroyabte." In any case, to outflank it meant a turning 
movement of 150 miles. Rommel rightly judged that 
General Montgomery would need time to think this over. 
Since he never lost the offensive spirit for long and did not 
propose to sit down and wait to be attacked, he looked 
round for something to undertake meanwhile. It need not 
necessarily be against the Eighth Army : there was also the 
Allied First Army, which would doubtless come in on his 
rear as soon as he was again at grips with General Mont- 
gomery. 

He chose precisely the most vulnerable spot. In the 
southern sector of the First Army front, across the Faid 
plain between Gafsa and Fondouk, lay the American 2nd 
Corps. Behind it was the Kasserine Pass. Defensive positions 
had been only sketchily prepared. The U.S. 1st Armoured 
Division was dispersed behind the front, half of it north 
towards Fondouk, where Intelligence was' convinced that 
any attack must fall. The troops were green and untried, 
under commanders who had as yet had no experience of 
modern war. 

This was Rommel's meat. He had already pulled out his 
faithful 21st Panzer Division and rearmed it with the tanks 
of an independent tank battalion sent to reinforce Tunisia. 
With about a hundred tanks, supported by Stukas, he fell 
upon the American Armoured Division on February 14th. 



THE END IN AFRICA 



197 



The forward positions were quickly overrun and Rommel 
pushed on with his armour through the hastily-constructed 
defences of the Kasserine Pass. The mixture of American, 
British and French troops added to the confusion. There 
was " no co-ordinated plan of defence and definite uncer- 
tainty as to command." A big salient had been driven into 
the Allied lines. With his forces almost intact, Rommel had 
open country in front of him and few natural obstacles to 
an advance northwards. He might very well turn the whole 
front in Tunisia and bring on a general withdrawal, if not a 
disaster. It was the Gazala Line over again. 

Such was the situation when General Alexander came up 
to command. "It was clear to me," he writes, " that . 
although Rommel's original intention had been merely to 
give such a blow to 2nd Corps as would leave his right rear 
secure while he prepared to meet Eighth Army, he now had 
much bigger ideas. From previous experience I knew him to 
be a man who would always exploit success by every possible 
means, to the limit of rashness, and there now glittered be- 
fore him the prospect of a tactical victory." 

On February 20th things looked so black that General 
Alexander had to wire to General Montgomery to do some- 
* thing to make a diversion. The latter at once agreed and 
said what he would do. " We will soon have Rommel run- 
ning about between us like a wet hen," he added. Thanks 
largely to good generalship by General Alexander, who 
rightly predicted that Rommel would turn north, where the 
glittering prize lay, the German thrust was stopped two days 
later; Rommel withdrew in good order, leaving behind him 
only nine tanks, plenty of mines to discourage pursuit and 
some very shaken initiates to war in North Africa. 

"The Battle of Kasserine had given me many anxious 
moments," says Field-Marshal Alexander in his dispatch. 
"As in his advance to £1 Alamein, Rommel had over- 
exploited a considerable initial success to leave himself in a 



198 



ROMMEL 



worse position than before ; he can hardly be blamed for his 
attempt to snatch a great victory, for on both occasions he 
came very near it, but the result was equally disastrous to 
him." 

That the retreat had not broken Rommel's nerve nor 
changed his habits in battle is shown by an incident which 
occurred about this time. The authority for it is Dr. 
Loeffler, one of the German counsel at the Nuremberg 
Trials, who was serving in tanks in Tunisia and was an eye- 
witness. Under heavy fire, Rommel drove up in his staff 
car to the commander of a tank battalion who was sitting 
inside his tank with the lid closed, at the entrance to a 
village. Rommel rapped on it. " What are you doing?" 
he asked the battalion commander when he opened up. " It 
is impossible to get on," replied that officer. At the same 
moment a salvo from a British battery burst all round the 
tank. The lid was hastily closed and the battalion com- 
mander imagined that Rommel must be dead. Ten minutes 
later there was another rap on the lid. It was Rommel, who 
had driven forward into the village and now returned. " You 
are quite right," he said, " there are four anti-tank guns at 
the other end of the street. Another time you might go and 
get that sort of information for yourself." 

This was Rommel's last battle but one in Africa. The last 
was Mcdenine, on March 5th. Rommel was too late by a 
few days to catch Montgomery off balance. When 1 5th and 
21st Panzer Divisions went in to the attack, a strong force 
was waiting for them. The battle of Alam-el-Halfa was 
repeated. " The infantry held their positions against strong 
infantry and tank attacks with no wire and few mines to 
protect them," says Major-General de Guingand, Chief of 
Staff of the Eighth Army. " The anti-tank guns were sited 
to kill tanks and not to protect the infantry. The effect of 

the concentrated use of our artillery was devastating It 

was the perfectly fought defensive battle. . . . Rommel com- 
pletely failed even to penetrate our positions." He left 52 



f HE END IN AFRICA 



199 



of the 140 tanks with which he started on the battlefield. 
The British casualties were 130 all ranks killed and 
wounded. No tanks were lost. General de Guingand says 
that prisoners reported that Rommel had gone round trying 
to whip up enthusiasm and to impress upon the troops the 
importance of the battle but was obviously a very sick man, 
with his throat bandaged and his face covered with desert 
sores. An eye-witness quoted by General Alexander relates 
that he told a party which stopped near him that unless they 
won this battle the last hope in Africa was gone. 

A week later he left for Germany. Various explanations 
have been given for his abrupt departure before the battle of 
the Mareth Line. The most implausible is that of General 
Eisenhower. " Rommel himself escaped before the final 
debacle/' he writes, " apparently foreseeing the inevitable 
and earnestly desiring to save his own skin." He did, in- 
deed, foresee the inevitable. But no one who has followed 
his career up to this point will believe that consideration for 
his own skin ever influenced any action of Rommel's from 
the day that he became a soldier. It has been said that the 
Italians demanded his withdrawal, but I can find no evi- 
dence of this. More plausibly, ill-health and the need for 
further treatment have been given as the reasons for his 
return. It has been said that Hitler ordered him out because 
of the effect upon German morale if he were captured. Since 
Hitler had not yet begun to realise that all was lost in 
Tunisia, this is improbable. It was not, indeed, until May 
8th that the High Command issued the order that Africa 
would now be abandoned and that the German and Italian 
forces would be withdrawn by sea. By that time, like so 
many of Hitler's orders, it could no longer be obeyed. The 
capitulation followed four days afterwards. 

The explanation given by Rommel's family, which came 
first-hand from him, is that he flew out on his own initiative 
and without orders, to beg Hitler again that he be allowed to 
save the German troops at the sacrifice of the material. He 



200 



ROMMEL 



was again refused and again called a defeatist and a coward. 
When he then proposed to go hack and see it through with 
them, permission was refused. I see no reason to doubt their 
story. 

The Afrika Korps did not forget him. Until the end his 
old divisions fought as stubbornly as under his leadership. 
Nor did his memrvy fade at once from the minds of his 
opponents. In Operation Victory General de Guingand 
mentions that he left Africa before the battle of the Mareth 
Line. Nevertheless he continues to refer, perhaps subcon- 
sciously, to " Rommel's troops." 

After the fall of Tunis, Rommel was summoned to 
Wolfsschanze, the " wolf's lair," the code-name for Hitler's 
headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia. Hitler 
seemed desperate but was in a more reasonable mood. " I 
should have listened to you earlier," he said, " Africa is lost 
now." Rommel spoke of the general position of the German 
forces and suddenly asked the Fiihrer : " Do you really think 
we can have the complete victory we aim at?" "No!" 
answered Hitler. Rommel pressed him. "Do you realise 
the consequences of defeat?" he asked. "Yes," Hitler re- 
plied, " I know it is necessary to make peace with one side 
or the other, but no one will make peace with me." In 
recounting this interview to Frau Rommel and Manfred, 
Rommel said that Hitler was a modern Louis XIV and 
quite unable to distinguish between his own interests and 
those of the German people. It never occurred to him that 
he might abdicate if he were the obstacle to peace. Rommel 
added that it was only when he was completely depressed 
that it was possible to reason with him. As soon as he was 
again surrounded by sycophants who assured him that he 
was on top of the world, he switched round immediately. 
Rommel had also realised, late in the day, that hatred was 
the mainspring of Hitler's character. When he hated, his 
hatred was passionate. He could not govern or control him- 



THE END IN AFRICA 201 

self : he wished simply to kill. Manfred remembered this 
conversation later, and still remembers it. 

On April 6th, at Wadi Akarit, 15th Panzer and 90th 
Light Division, " fighting," said General Alexander, " per- 
haps the best battle of their distinguished careers," tem- 
porarily staved off disaster but could not prevent the 
junction of First and Eighth Armies. On April 29th they 
and 21st Panzer Division "continued to show an excellent 
spirit," in spite of heavy losses. On April 30th, First Army 
was to be reinforced by the best formations of Eighth Army. 
General Montgomery selected 7th Armoured Division, 4th 
Indian Division and 201st Guards Brigade. The two divi- 
sions were those which had won the first British victory in 
Africa under General Wavell. On Mav 7th the 11th 

J 

Hussars of 7th Armoured Division, the original and authen- 
tic " desert rats," entered Tunis. On May 12th, after a last 
battle in the hills above Enfidaville, General Graf von 
Sponeck surrendered 90th Light Division to his old enemy, 
General Freybcrg and his New Zealandcrs. The last of the 
Afrika Korps went into captivity — without its leader. The 
desert war was over. 

It remained for Field-Marshal Keitel, in a fit of prc- 
death-bed repentance, to say the last word about it : 

" One of the biggest occasions we passed by was at El 
Alamein. I would say that, at that climax of the war, we 
were nearer to victory than at any other time before or 
after. Very little was needed then to conquer Alexandria 
and to push forward to Suez and Palestine. . . ." 

General Hairier, however, remains unrepentant. In a 
turgid and ill-written book, Hitler als Feldheer, designed to 
put all the blame for Germany's defeat on the Fiihrer and 
tries to exculpate the General Staff and provide a new ver- 
sion of the " stab in the back," he still maintains that " to 
beat England decisively in North Africa was impossible." 



202 



ROMMEL 



Control of the supply lines of the Mediterranean could not 
be wrested from her. German submarines only arrived with 
a loss of fifty per cent. (In fact, two were lost out of sixty.) 
England could bring everything she wanted through the 
Red Sea. (lie does not mention that it all had to come 
round the Cape of Good Hope.) "It was, from the begin- 
ning only a question of time. . . Fortunately for the 
British, the German General Staff has always produced its 
Haiders. 



i 



Chapter Ten 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 

In the late summer of 1943 Rommel was where many 
German generals on the Russian front would have been glad 
to change places with him — commanding Army Group B 
in Northern Italy, with headquarters near Lake Garda. On 
his return from North Africa he had first gone into hospital 
at Zemmering for six or seven weeks and was then posted as 
a "military adviser" to Hitler's headquarters. His advice 
was not asked for and he felt that he was wasting his time. 
A rumour that Mr. Churchill was about to stage an invasion 
of Europe through the Balkans caused Hitler to send him 
to Greece, but he was in Athens only twenty-four hours 
when, on the news of the fall of Mussolini on July 25th, the 
Fiihrer hurriedly recalled him by telephone. Army Group 
B was then being formed around Munich, for Hitler already 
suspected that the Italians were about to surrender or, pos- 
siblv, to change sides. 

His suspicions were strengthened when Rommel, with 
Field-Marshal Jodl, went to Badoglio's headquarters to dis- 
cuss the question of sending more troops to Italy. General 
Roatta, Badoglio's Chief of Staff, did everything possible to 
prevent the move which would, he said, be most unpopular 
with the Italians. He also objected to Jodl's placing an S.S. 
guard on his billet. What right had Jodl, he asked, to bring 
"political troops" into Italy? What would Jodl have said 
if he had given him as a guard a company of Jews? Jodl, 
who had heard a report that he and Rommel were to be 
poisoned, said nothing but kept his S.S. Rommel decided 
that the sooner Army Group B moved into Italy the better* 

203 



20* ROMMEL 

They were his Tiger tanks which I watched, on the morning 
of September 9th, as they moved along the Rivergaro road 
to occupy Piacenza. 

When the armistice was announced in our prison camp 
the evening before, I had hastily bought a well-worn alpaca 
suit and a large straw hat from the caretaker. Now, out on 
a " recce " and looking, as I fondly imagined, every inch an 
Italian peasant, I was leaning over a garden wall, enjoying 
the sunshine and my first taste of freedom for sixteen 
months. The sight of German tanks in that quiet country- 
side was unwelcome, as was the appearance of two S.S. men 
with tommy-guns in the garden a few minutes later. I had 
to slip away hurriedly into the vines and thence across the 
fields to the camp to report. I heard afterwards that every- 
one who saw me — except, fortunately, the S.S. men — recog- 
nised me for what I was and wondered what I was doing in 
Alfredo's second-best suit. 

Even in a prison-camp we had known, what our Intelli- 
gence apparently did not know, that the Germans were 
ready to react vigorously to an Italian surrender. One of 
our tame guards had reported, at least a fortnight before, 
that German divisions were streaming over the Brenner. We 
had not expected that the reaction locally would be quite so 
quick. Some of us, indeed, hoped to take the train from 
Piacenza that afternoon, for Rome and the south. Having 
nearly all been captured in North Africa, we would have 
been less optimistic had we realised that Rommel was in 
command. (It was, we still feel, a strange oversight that 
50,000 British prisoners-of-war in Italy received no orders 
or information of any kind at the time of the armistice. Hie 
result was that most of them, obeying a six-months-old order 
to " stay put," were carried off to Germany. Negotiations 
with Badoglio went on from the end of July until Septem- 
ber : someone might have given us a thought.) 

Apart from making occasional sweeps through the hills, 
Rommel's troops did not hunt us about unduly In the 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



205 



desert his order of priority had been (1) petrol arid oil, (2) 
water, (3) food, (4) prisoners. " We can pick them up later," 
he used to say. Apparently he still observed it. Once the 
Germans had a tight hold on Northern Italy, they seemed 
more interested in looting their former allies of food and 
machinery and sending the young men off to German 
labour-camps than in rounding up the odd prisoners who 
were still at large. 

Rommel, characteristically, was bored with his comfort- 
able appointment. Possibly he did not like serving again 
under Kesselring : certainly he had hoped for another fight- 
ing command. Summering in the Italian lakes was not his 
idea of war. Moreover, immediately after the armistice, he 
began to have trouble with the S.S. and with Sepp Dietrich, 
commanding the S.S. Corps. There were reports of wide- 
spread looting and of brutal behaviour in Milan and other 
northern cities. Rommel was indignant, both because of 
these incidents and because he was not allowed to interfere 
with the discipline of the S.S. He forwarded a long list of 
S.S. officers for punishment and, since he was at least free 
to control the location of his troops, ordered the S.S. units 
out of Milan. " How are things going now in Milan, Field- 
Marshal?" he was asked by Himmler, paying a visit of in- 
spection to Italy. "Better, since we moved the S.S. out," 
replied Rommel. The S.S. were not, however, so easily de- 
feated. When Rommel complained to an S.S. general about 
their looting, the general, knowing that Rommel collected 
stamps, sent him a magnificent (looted) collection. 

It was thus with relief that, at the beginning of Novem- 
ber, Rommel learnt that he had been given a special mission 
by the Fiihrer. He was to inspect the coastal defences in the 
west, from the Skagerrack to the Spanish frontier, and 
report on their readiness to resist invasion. Some expert 
advice in the naval side would clearly be needed. Rommel's 
Chief of Staff, General Gausi, who had been with him in 
North Africa until he was wounded on May 31st, 1942, 



206 



ROMMEL 



knew just the man. This was Vice-Admiral Ruge, then 
commanding the German naval forces in Italy and pre- 
viously in charge of mine-sweepers. (After the first war, he 
was interned for his share in scuttling the German Fleet in 
Scapa Flow.) Gausi had met and liked Ruge, and Rommel 
applied for him on Gausi's recommendation. There could 
have been no better choice. Vice-Admiral Ruge, still living 
in Guxhavcn and teaching German to British naval officers, 
is the type of officer we like to think peculiar to the British 
Navy. In fact, all navies produce it for it is a product of 
earlv training, discipline and the sea. Since he was a man of 
intelligence, energy and integrity, Rommel took to him at 
once and Ruge became his close friend and confidant. 

Why was it that Admiral Ruge, for his part, felt himself 
at ease with Rommel from their first meeting, even though 
the Field-Marshal, returning uncxpectedlv to his headquar- 
ters, caught him in an old bridge coat, with a muffler round 
his neck? It was his answer to that question which enabled 
me to place Rommel and will, perhaps, help to explain him 
to many English readers. " He was a type one meets more 
often in the Navy than in the other services," said Admiral 
Ruge. When, with that in mind, I looked aerain at Rom- 
mel's photograph, covering up the cap, and reflected on all 
the stories I had heard about him, the odd pieces of his per- 
sonality seemed to slip into place. Perhaps because my own 
father was a sailor and I spent much of my early life at sea, 
I felt that I could now understand this very unusual German 
general. He had hardly seen salt water until his last assign- 
ment. But think of him in the line of Nelson's captains, an 
unromantic Hornblower, and he runs true to type. 

The qualities which he showed in the desert and elsewhere 
are not peculiar to sailors. Soldiers, too, can be bold and 
determined and tireless and grave. They can have good, 
orderly minds without much book-learning and with no 
interest in the arts. They also can be brusque in manner, 
direct of speech, intolerant of inefficiency and anxious to 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



207 



get on with a job. But when one adds some of Rommel's 
other characteristics, his manual dexterity and skill in im- 
provising mechanical devices; his extreme simplicity and 
contempt of " frills 99 ; a mild streak of concealed and sub- 
conscious puritanism, so that no one felt inclined to tell a 
dirty story in his presence; above all, his intense devotion to 
home and family, then the combination recalls to me my 
father and his contemporaries as strongly as do the clear 
blue eyes with the network of fine lines round them. Admiral 
Sir Walter Cowan, whom he captured in the desert, serving 
at seventy-two with an Indian cavalry regiment, and with 
whom I was afterwards in a prison-camp, may not appre- 
ciate the comparison but I can picture the two of them 
barking away at each other, neither prepared to yield an 
inch, and yet understanding each other perfectly. They 
were, indeed, very much two of a kind and Admiral Ruge 
would have made a good, though less prickly, third. 

Reporting for duty on November 10th, Ruge was sent to 
Berlin to collect all the maps and charts and information he 
could find. When he had got the papers together they were 
destroyed in an air-raid. It was not until the beginning of 
December that he and Rommel were able to start work in 
Denmark. The inspection of the Danish coast took ten days. 
Then Rommel moved the headquarters of Army Group B 
to Fontainebleau and began to study the French coast. (The 
German Bight of the North Sea was excluded from his task.) 
He had not been in France since 1940 and what he saw, or 
failed to see, appalled him. The great "Atlantic Wall," 
with which the German propaganda machine had succeeded 
in impressing its own people as well as the Allies, was a fake, 
a paper hoop for the Allies to jump through. 

The German Navy had, indeed, erected batteries for the 
protection of the principal ports. These had been linked up, 
to some extent, by batteries of the Army Coastal Artillery. 
But whereas the naval guns were in steel cupolas, the army 
artillery was merely dug in and had no overhead cover 



208 



ROMMEL 



against shells or bombs. (Admiral Ruge explained that the 
Army Command was unwilling to put its guns under con- 
crete because of the consequent restriction of the field of fire. 
From 1942 onwards the scarcity of steel made it impossible 
to obtain the necessary turrets.) As for the string of strong- 
points, in many cases they had no concrete shelters at all. 
These were especially lacking along the coast between the 
Orne and the Vire. Where they existed, the head cover was 
only 60 cm. thick and useless, therefore, against the pre- 
liminary air bombardments which were to be expected. 

Even the elementary precaution of surrounding the 
strong-points with minefields had been ignored. In three 
years, only 1,700,000 mines had been laid. The monthly rate 
of supply when Rommel arrived was 40,000 — a fraction of 
what we laid in 1941 below the Sollum-Halfaya escarpment. 
There were no shallow-water mines below low-water level, 
nor were the minefields to seaward sufficient. Beach obstacles 
were of the most primitive sort, quite ineffective against 
tanks and not much use even against infantry. The fact was 
that no serious and concerted attempt had yet been made to 
put the French coast into a state of defence against invasion. 
Nothing was done outside the ports until after the St. 
Nazaire and Dieppe raids and then the effort was half- 
hearted. 

Admiral Ruge blames the engineer-general in charge, who 
was not up to his job. He was bogged down in detail and 
never thought out a clear over-all plan. " He was not the 
man to reconcile the differing views of Army and Navy." 
The German High Command was equally to blame for not 
supervising him. In the absence of prodding from above, 
the local commanders took things easily and decided for 
themselves how much or how little to do. France had, in- 
deed, become a home of rest for tired generals and tired 
divisions from Russia. The permanent garrison was com* 
posed of " category " troops of very poor quality, under the 
sort of officers whom such troops attract The Todt organs 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



209 



sation, which had built the Siegfried Line, was busy repair- 
ing bomb damage in Germany. 

As may be imagined, Rommel set to with a will to put 
this right. Beginning just before Christmas, he spent his 
days making long trips by car with his staff to various sec- 
tions of the coast and to all the headquarters, down to divi- 
sions. By daylight he inspected the defences; when the early 
darkness of the winter afternoons stopped outdoor work, he 
held conferences. " He got up early," says Admiral Ruge, 
44 travelled fast, saw things very quickly and seemed to have 
an instinct for the places where something was wrong. On 
one typical winter inspection we arrived at Perpignan late 
one night. We left at 6 a.m. next morning, without break- 
fast. Driving through snow and rain, we reached Bayonne 
at 2 p.m. An hour later, having received the report of the 
local commanding general, we left, without luncheon, for 
St. Jean-de-Luz, on the Spanish frontier. There we inspected 
batteries. We arrived at Bordeaux at 7 p.m. and conferred 
with General von Blaskowitz. At 8 p.m. we had an hour off 
for supper, our first meal of the day. We settled down to 
work again at 9 p.m., but fortunately the engineer-general 
feli asleep over the table." To the snug staffs of the coastal 
sectors Rommel blew in like an icy and unwelcome wind off 
the North Sea. 

Of his own headquarters, which he had moved to La 
Rochc-Guyon, north-west of Paris, he saw little, except at 
night. The fact that they were in a fine old castle, full of 
historical associations, since it had belonged to La Rochefou- 
cauld, Due de Roche-Guyon, aroused no interest in him. 
Nor could he be persuaded for a long time to visit Mont St. 
Michel for pleasure. When at last Admiral Ruge succeeded 
in dragging him there, he remarked that it " would make a 
good dug-out/* but, said Ruge, enjoyed pottering about it. 
On the other hand, he needed no persuasion to go twice to 
Paris to inspect a revolving gun-turret in concrete which 
German technicians had constructed. 



210 



ROMMEL 



Unfortunately for Rommel, lie was very far from having 
a free hand. He could give no direct orders to the troops 
but could only make suggestions to the Commander-in- 
Chief West (Field-Marshal von Rundstedt) or to the High 
Command. Since he was working under -personal instruc- 
tions from Hitler and at the same time was subordinate to 
von Rundstedt, efficiency was impossible and some friction 
inevitable. Actually von Rundstedt and Rommel got. on 
better than might have been expected. Von Rundstedt was 
an aristocratic and dignified German officer of the old 
school, a very able if orthodox strategist. He might easily 
have resented the arrival in his area of a jumped-up Field- 
Marshal with no staff training and no recent experience of 
European war. The ill-defined set-up had in it all the 
makings of a bitter quarrel. Happily von Rundstedt was by 
no means as stiff as he appeared to be and had a sense of 
humour. Long after Rommel was dead he told Captain 
Liddell Hart that he had no complaint to make of him. 
" Whenever I gave him an order he obeyed. ... I do not 
think he was really qualified for high command but he was 
a very brave man and a very capable commander." 

That did not alter the fact that the Commander-in-Chief 
West, who, when he took over early in 1942, had seen as 
quickly as Rommel the weaknesses of the Atlantic Wall, did 
not believe that it could be so strengthened as to form a 
real obstacle to an invasion. Nothing, he felt, could prevent 
the Allies landing in force. As a result; he had failed to 
speed up the work on the defences. It was only at the begin- 
ning of 1944 that Rommel sought and obtained an indepen- 
dent command. At the end of January he was made 
Commander-in-Chief of the German Armies from the 
Netherlands to the Loire, These included the occupation 
troops in Holland, the 15th Army, holding from the Dutch 
frontier to die Seine, and the 7th Army, from the Seine to 
tha Loire. General Blaskowitz's Army Group G controlled 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



211 



the 1st Army, covering the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees 
and the 1 9th Army, holding the Mediterranean coast. Field- 
Marshal von Rundstedt remained Supreme Commander 
over all. 

This was a logical arrangement. According to his staff, it 
was suggested by von Rundstedt : according to Admiral 
Ruge, the proposal came from Rommel. Whoever was the 
author of it, one feels that von Rundstedt's attitude was : 
" I don't personally see any sense in trying to do anything 
with the Atlantic Wall but if Rommel feels that he can, 
belter let him get on with it." The reaction of the staffs 
on both sides was one of profound relief. 

Get on with it Rommel did and it was a very good thing 
for the Allies that he was not given six months longer. By 
then the physical difficulties of the landing would have been 
immensely greater. 

He was still working under serious handicaps. " He had 
very little influence with the Navy," said Admiral Ruge, 
" and none at all with the Air Force." It was not until July 
1st, more than three weeks after the invasion, that he was 
able to write to Commander-in-Chief West : " With a view 
to obtaining unified command of the Wehrmacht and con- 
centration of all forces, I now propose to take over command 
of the headquarters and units of the other two services em- 
ployed in the Army Group area or co-operating with it. . . . 
Close co-operation between the flying formations and the 
flak corps and the heavily engaged army can be guaranteed 
only by the strictest command from one headquarters. Dup- 
lication of orders leads to military half-measure. . . This 
was labouring the obvious. But the jealousy between the 
Services and the system of private armies owing allegiance 
to Goering, Himmler, etc., was one of the major causes of 
German defeat. 

Moreover, the knowledge that von Rundstedt's disbelief 
in fixed defences was shared by die Army Command, always 



212 



ROMMEL 



inclined to discount anything done by Rommel, did not fail 
to percolate down to subordinate commanders. As late as 
April 22nd Rommel was writing : 

" My inspection tour of the coiistal sectors . . . shows 
that unusual progress has been made. . . . However, here 
and there I noticed units that do not seem to have recog- 
nised the graveness of the hour and some who do not even 
follow instructions. There are reports of cases in which 
my orders that all minefields on the beach should be alive 
at all times have not been obeyed. A commander of a 
lower unit gave an order to the contrary. In other cases 
my orders have been postponed to later dates or even 
changed. Reports from some sectors say that they intend 
to try to put one of my orders into effect and that they 
would start doing so the following day. Some units knew 
my orders but did not make any preparations to execute 
them. 1 give orders only when they are necessary. I 
expect them to be executed at once and to the letter and 
that no unit under my command shall make changes, still 
less give orders to the contrary or delay execution through 
unnecessary red tape." 

Rommel must have missed the ready obedience of the 
Afrika Korps. In the desert he had not had to give orders 
twice. 

Lack of backing from above and of enthusiasm below 
were no help in a race against time. Rommel was accus- 
tomed to the first. As for the second, no one was better than 
he at rousing the spirit of tired and apathetic troops. Like 
a mate of a sailing-ship, he could "put a jump into a 
wooden dog." " He had a knack of handling men and of 
talking to them," said Admiral Ruge. " Like many of us 
who had been young officers in 1918, he had done some 
deep thinking after the revolution about the relations be- 
tween officers and men. That is one of the reasons, I think, 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



213 



why our Army and Navy kept their discipline so long under 
such very difficult circumstances. Wherever we went at this 
time in France he spoke freely to all ranks. He explained 
his ideas to them clearly and patiently and told them exactly 
what he wanted them to do. Naturally, they listened for, 
apart from his reputation, he had great commonsense, a 
gift of quiet humour and an instinct for the human side of 
a situation often lacking in trained staff officers. A new 
spirit was very soon evident in the troops and the work of 
preparing to resist the invasion began to go ahead." 

On the other side of the Channel, General Montgomery 
was speaking in just the same simple, direct and effective 
fashion to the troops who were to cany it out and to the 
factory workers who were to keep them supplied. 

In neither case were these "pep-talks" greatly appre- 
ciated by higher authority. Both commanders were sus- 
pected of aiming at a personal "build-up." The British 
newspapers, says Moorehead, were encouraged to "go 
slow " on Montgomery. As far back as the summer of 1941, 
the Army Propaganda Department had been instructed, 
apparently by General Haider, not to make too much of 
Rommel. Baron von Esebeck had been refused permission 
to rejoin him in North Africa. Rommel's enemies in high 
"laces were now in a quandary. They had to make the most 
of the Atlantic Wall, if only to intimidate the Allies. They 
could not publicise it and the work being done on it without 
at the same time publicising the man in charge. They con- 
tented themselves, therefore, with describing him in private 
as a mountebank and a seeker after notoriety. They added 
that he had never been the same, since his illness in North 
Africa. Rommel, meanwhile, like Montgomery, realised that 
propaganda and the exploitation of his own personality were 
merely another weapon. " You can do what you like with 
me," he said to his chief cameraman, " if it means 4 the post- 
poning of the invasion by even a week.** In private, says 
Admiral Ruge, he remained modest and unassuming. " He 



214 



ROMMEL 



was not a vain man and he had no wish to push himself 
forward." 

Personal jealousies Rommel could ignore : scarcity of 
material was an ohstacle that could not be overcome. At this 
period enormous quantities of steel and concrete were being 
used for submarine shelters and for the launch ing-sitcs of 
Vl's and V2's. The new submarines and the secret weapons 
were Hitler's latest prescription for winning the war. Had 
they not been spotted in time, they might well have enabled 
him, if not to win it, at least to prolong it indefinitely. Per- 
haps rightly, they were still given priority over fixed 
defences. Rommel had, therefore, to make do with what 
he could lay his hands on. Hitler might agree, as he did, 
that all coastal defence batteries should be put into concrete 
emplacements, with at least six feet of concrete overhead. 
But even armed with this order Rommel could not get the 
concrete, simply because there was not enough to go round. 
When the invasion came, many batteries had no overhead 
cover at all and were quicklv blotted out from the air. 

Rommel nevertheless managed to get a prodigious 
amount of work done and, in this new field, showed his in- 
nate talent for improvisation. In a few months, though 
hampered by supply and transport difficulties and, towards 
the end, by continual air attacks, he succeeded in having 
four million mines laid, as against less than two million in 
the previous three years. Given time, he proposed to lay 
fifty to a hundred million and, after surrounding all strong- 
holds with deep minefields, to fill up the country between 
them with mines, wherever if was " tankable." What would 
the answer have been if he had thus converted whole areas 
of France into vast mine-swamps? The point was not raised 
at Field-Marshal Montgomery's post-war conference at 
Camberley in May, 1946, though it had occurred to one 
distinguished commander and student of war, Lieut- 
General Sir Francis Tuker. General Patton might have been 
puzzled. 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



215 



Because mines, like every tiling else, were in short supply, 
they were not at all of conventional construction. Rommel 
raided depots and arsenals, where he discovered stocks of 
hundreds of thousands of old shells. These he made into 
mines, as did the Japanese, more primitively, in Bunna. 
(Under the Japanese system, an unfortunate individual sat 
with his shell in a hole in the road and was supposed to 
touch it off when a tank ran ovor him.) Nor were the mine- 
fields laid in conventional pattern. Rommel's idea was to 
employ mines in as many different ways as possible. " Here 
he had to fight many a battle against the engineers,*' said 
Admiral Ruge. " They wanted to lay their mines by the 
book while he was always for variety." Rommel and Ruge 
were, in fact, still making a comparative study of mining 
tactics ashore and at sea when the invasion overtook them. 

Rommel's open mind greatly impressed his naval adviser. 
45 He was an unconventional soldier and, unlike many of the 
General Staff, he was very much interested in technical 
things. He saw the point of any new device of a technical 
kind very quickly. If one gave him an idea in the evening 
he would often telephone in the morning and suggest an 
improvement He had a strong mechanical bent and his 
suggestions were always sound." In the many "gadgets" 
that were improvised to make a landing difficult, one can 
see the traces of the young officer who took his new motor- 
bicycle to pieces and put it together again, just as one can 
see, in the deceptions and ruses employed, the artful enemy 
we knew in North Africa. 

Amongst the "gadgets" were, for example, the beams 
driven into the beaches below low- water mark, some with 
mines on the top, some with steel cutters to act as "tin- 
openers." There were home-made " nutcracker " mines in 
blocks of concrete. There were mined logs with a seaward 
slope. There were the obsolete tank obstacles, made out of 
three iron bars at right-angles, which were now useless 
against tanks but, as Rommel pointed out, could still impede 



216 



ROMMEL 



infantry if set below high-water mark. There were naval 
mines sunk in shallow water with floating lines attached to 
the horns. Ashore there were poles driven in on open fields 
and wired together with mines on top to impede glider 
landings. Many of these and other such devices were, how- 
ever, not ready by June 6th because of difficulties of supply, 
of transport and of labour. 

Amongst the deceptions were, naturally, dummy mine- 
fields, though Rommel had to complain that they would 
hardly be convincing to air reconnaissance i f cattle were 
allowed to graze over them. There were dummy batteries 
which, in fact, were later heavily bombed. There was the 
usual camouflage, though here again Rommel had to point 
out that it was not much use camouflaging a battery position 
in a green field with black nets. There were arrangements 
for make-shift smoke from straw and leaves, real smoke 
apparatus being in short supply. Infantry and artillery com- 
manders were ordered to be ready to light fires on dummy 
batteries and on dummy emplacements and entrenchments 
behind the line, to distract enemy gunfire from the beaches. 
But, on April 22nd, " there are no reoorts from any place 
that these preparations have been made." 

As a preliminary measure, when the invasion was immi- 
nent, Rommel was anxious that Vl's should be used against 
the British concentration areas in the South of England. He 
was refused, though many of the installations were ready, 
because there were not yet enough Vl's to allow of a con- 
tinuous fire being kept up. It was, perhaps, too late. But it 
is interesting to note that General Eisenhower says that, had 
the Germans succeeded in perfecting these weapons six 
months earlier and had they been used principally against 
the Portsmouth-Southampton area, " the invasion of Europe 
would have proved exceedingly difficult and perhaps 
impossible." 

Similarly, Rommel wanted the Navy to mine the naviga- 
tion channels and the Luftwaffe to drop the new pressure- 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



217 

• 



box mines all round the Isle of Wight. The Navy objected 
to laying mines too close to the shore and the Fiihrer would 
not allow the pressure-box mine to be used because there 
was no known method of sweeping it and the Allies might 
lay similar mines and u block our harbours completely." 
(He was, presumably, still thinking of his new submarines.) 

The real conflict of opinion was, however, on the whole 
broad question of how the invasion could best be resisted. 
Rommel apparently had no doubts. " Wc must stop the 
enemy in the water," he said, " and destroy his equpiment 
zvhile it if still afloat" The first twenty-four hours, in his 
view, would be decisive. Once the Allies secured a bridge- 
head it would be impossible to drive them back into the sea 
or to prevent them breaking out. He based his belief entirely 
on the factor of air superiority. " He had never forgotten 
how the R.A.F. had kept him and his army of 80,000 men 
nailed to the ground for two or three days in North Africa." 
The air force that would accompany the invasion would be 
incomparably more powerful. As for the Luftwaffe, it would 
be shot out of the skies and the reinforcements promised by 
Goering, like the supplies for North Africa, would never 
appear. Road and rail traffic would be completely disrupted 
and movement in the back areas would become impossible. 
It was no use, therefore, thinking of conventional large- 
scale counter-offensives : the troops would never get up to 
make them or would arrive in disorder and too late. If this 
reasoning were correct, then the main line of resistance must 
be the beach. Every man in the forward divisions must be 
ready to fight at once if a landing were attempted on his 
part of the coast. Reserves, headquarters and ancillary ser- 
vices must be right up behind the fighting troops. The 
armour must be in close support, so that the guns of the 
tanks could actually bear on the beaches. If this strong belt 
of resistance were eventually broken, at least it would hold 
up the invaders for some time and their breakout would be 
local. 



218 



ROMMEL 



The Army Command, the Commander-in-Chief West, his 
staff, and the majority of the army, corps and divisional 
commanders took the more orthodox view. With 3000 miles 
of coast line to defend; with only 59 divisions, most of them 
second-class and only ten of them armoured, with which to 
defend it; with no certainty where the main landing would 
be made, it was useless to think of preventing the Allies set- 
ting foot above high-water mark. The only correct course 
was to keep the reserves, including the armour, well in rear, 
to wait until the main effort was identified beyond doubt 
and then to launch a large-scale counter-offensive at the 
right moment. That might be when the invaders were ashore 
and still building-up. It might be when they had moved out 
of their bridgehead but were temporarily "off balance.'* 
Von Rundstedt justifiably considered himself a good enough 
general to select it according to circumstances. 

For Rommel it may be said that his appreciation of the 
effects of Allied air power was proved accurate. It was only 
with the utmost difficulty that troops could move behind the 
front and then across country, by night and in small forma- 
tions. One division from the south of France took twenty- 
two days to cover the four hundred miles to Normandy and 
had to do most of it on foot. General Baycrlein, now com- 
manding the crack Panzer Lehr Division, ninety miles 
south of Caen, took more than three days to get up and lost 
five tanks, 130 trucks and many self-propelled guns before 
he came into action, though he was well provided with 
" flak " and had trained his division in the use of cover and 
camouflage. In the Falaisc gap, roads, highways and fields 
were so choked with destroyed equipment and with dead 
men and animals, says General Eisenhower, " that it was 
literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time 
stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh." 

On the other hand, Rommel can be accused of grossly 
over-estimating the chances of holding the Atlantic Wall. It 
was no good saying, at the end of April, that " we must, in 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



219 



the short time left, bring all defences up to such a standard 
that they will be proof against the strongest attack." For 
that he should have been in charge two years before, with 
unlimited material and the men to put it into place. Even 
so, there is no such thing as a defensive belt " proof against 
the strongest attack." That was a lesson that he and his 
"Ghost Division " had helped to teach in 1940. As it was, 
his defences were not even a quarter complete. Nor could 
he have had any confidence in the men who manned them. 
Dug-outs, convalescents from the Eastern Front, boys with- 
out battle experience, with a residue of renegade Poles, 
Rumanians, Jugoslavs and Russians, they were not likely to 
stand up to the sort of sea and air bombardment he had him- 
self foretold. His reputation as a strategist would rank higher 
if he had backed von Rundstedt's proposal for evacauting, 
before the invasion, the whole of southern France up to the 
Loire. Had that been done, he might have fought his last 
battles in the moving warfare of which he was a master. 
But such a plan, as he knew, was foredoomed. Selling ideas 
of retreat to the Fiihrcr was a task more hopeless than that 
of defending the Atlantic Wall. However, as will be seen in 
the next chapter, he is not to be judged entirely on what he 
said and seemed to believe at this period. 

General Montgomery had no doubt what Rommel would 
do. His analysis of his old opponent's plans and personality 
was a masterpiece. " Last February," he said, in May, 
" Rommel took command from Holland to the Loire. ... It 
is now clear that his intention is to defeat us on the beaches. 
* . . He is an energetic and determined commander; he has 
made a world of difference since he took over. He is best at 
the spoiling attack; his forte is disruption; he is too impul- 
sive for a set-piece battle. He will do his level best to 
' Dunkirk * us — not to fight the armoured battle on ground 
of his choosing but to avoid it altogether and prevent our 
tanks landing by using his own tanks well forward. On 
D-day he will try (a) to force us from the beaches; (b) to 



220 ROMMEL 

secure Caen, Bayeux, Carentin. Thereafter he will continue 
his counter-attacks. ... We must blast our way on shore 
and get a good lodgment before he can bring up sufficient 
reserves to turn us out. Armoured columns must penetrate 
deep inland and quickly. . . . We must gain space rapidly 
and peg out claims well inland. . . . While we arc engaged 
in doing this, the air must hold the ring and must make very 
difficult the movement of enemy reserves by train or road 
towards the lodgment areas. The land battle will be a 
terrific party and we shall require the support of the air all 
the time — and laid on quickly." 

It came about as both men predicted. Rommel did try to 
" Dunkirk " us. The air did hold the ring. The first twenty- 
four hours were decisive. Once the Allies secured their 
bridgeheads, only by some gross mistake on their part could 
they have been thrown back into the sea. Would von 
Rundstedt have had a better chance of defeating them in 
open warfare when they debouched from it? With the 
troops at his disposal and in face of Allied air supremacy, it 
seems unlikely. Nor was General Montgomery the man to 
give him the opportunity of catching him " off balance." 
Progress might have been slower but one feels that it would 
have been just as sure. 

In fact, neither of the plans for resisting the invasion was 
put to the test for neither von Rundstedt nor Rommel was 
free to do as he wished. Because Hitler, if he did not inspire 
it, backed Rommel in his belief that the beaches must be 
the main line of resistance, von Rundstedt was unable to 
form his army of manoeuvre. Because von Rundstedt, 
against Hitler's intuition and Rommel's judgment, took the 
orthodox staff view that the main landing would come in 
the Pas de Calais, the nearest point to England, and the 
direct road to the Ruhr, Rommel was not able to concen- 
trate a strong armoured force immediately behind the Nor- 
mandy beaches, where he and Hitler expected it. Three 
weak armoured divisions only were placed at his disposal for 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



221 



the whole front from the Scheldt to the Loire. The rest 
were in reserve, nominally under the orders of Commander- 
in-Chief West. Even he could not move them without the 
permission of Kcitcl, Jodl and Hitler which, as usual, came 
too late. In the forward area in Normandy, Rommel had 
only his old 21st Panzer Division, now re-formed with very 
few of the old personnel. According to von Esebeck, it was 
removed from his command while he was away seeing Hitler 
the day before the invasion and transferred to von Rund- 
stedt's Panzer Group West. He retrieved it and used it to 
advantage, for it was this division which prevented the 
capture of Caen the first day. But, rightly or wrongly, Rom- 
mel did not feel that its commander, Major-General 
Feuchtingcr, handled it with the boldness of von Ravenstein 
in the desert. When he reached the front he found it, says 
von Esebeck^ held up by airborne troops. 41 How many 
gliders were there," asked Rommel. 44 Hundreds and hun- 
dreds," replied Feuchtinger. 41 How many did you shoot 
down ?" 44 Three or four." 4 ' You have losl> your chance," 
said Rommel. Feuchtinger, for his part, complained that, 
until Rommel's return, he could get no orders from any one 
and that he had been forbidden to move without them. 

As in Africa, 44 too little and too late " was the crime oi 
the German High Command. For weeks before the invasion 
Rommel had begged to be allowed to move the 12 S.S. 
Panzer Division, the Hitler Jugend, to the mouth of the 
Vire, near Carentan. It was near Carentan that the Ameri- 
cans landed. Carentan was one of the three points which 
General Montgomery had predicted that Rommel would try 
to secure. When it was thrown in at Caen, the division 
fought desperately under its fanatical Nazi leader, Kurt 
Meyer. It might not have stopped the landing but that was 
the way Rommel had planned to stop it. Rommel was re- 
fused the division by von Rundstedt. Yet von Rundstedt 
was not to blame. He could not move it without permission 
from Jodl and Jodl could not move it without permission 



222 



ROMMEL 



from Hitler ! No general could control a battle under such 
conditions. 

It was very shortly after the bridgehead had been secured 
that Rommel and von Rundstedt found themselves for the 
first time in complete and open agreement. Asked by Cap- 
tain Liddell Hart long afterwards whether he had hopes of 
defeating the invasion at any stage after the landing, von 
Rundstedt replied : " Not after the first few days. The 
Allied Air Forces paralysed all movement by day and made 
it very difficult by night. They had smashed the bridges 
over the Loire as well as over the Seine, shutting off the 
whole area. These factors greatly delayed the concentration 
of reserves there — they took three or four times longer to 
reach the front than we had reckoned." The word " we " 
did not include Rommel, who was thus posthumously 
proved correct in his diagnosis, if not in his proposed treat- 
ment. The story was told by von Rundstedt's Chief of Staff, 
General Blumcntritt, to the author of Defeat in the West 
how, towards the end of the month, Keitel called up von 
Rundstedt and asked desperately, " What shall we do?" To 
which von Rundstedt replied impassively: "Do? Make 
peace, you idiots! What else can you do?" and hung up. 
Admiral Ruge relates that, much earlier, Rommel told him 
that the war must be brought to an end at all costs. " Better 
end this as once, even if it means living as a British 
Dominion," he said, " rather than see Germany ruined by 
going on with this hopeless war." " On June* 1 1th we talked 
for about two hours. I said that in my opinion Hitler ought 
to resign and open the road to peace. As an alternative I 
said that he ought to commit suicide. Rommel replied, 4 1 
know that man. He will neither resign nor kill himself. He 
will fight, without the least regard for the German people, 
until there isn't a house left standing in Germany.' " 

Rommel's reports were only slightly more discreet. On 
June 12th he sent forward an appreciation of the position 
on the previous day. After a conventional reference to the 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



223 



obstinate resistance of the German troops in the coastal 
sectors, which had delayed the Allied operations, he went 
on in a vein of almost unrelieved pessimism : 

" The strength of the enemy on land is increasing more 
quickly than our reserves can reach the front. . . . The 
Army Group must content itself for the present with form- 
ing a cohesive front between the Orne and the Vire and 
allowing the enemy to advance. ... It is not possible to 
relieve troops still resisting in many coastal positions. . . . 
Our operations in Normandy will be rendered excep- 
tionally difficult and even partially impossible by the 
extraordinarily strong and in some respects overwhelming 
superiority of the Allied Air Force and by the effect of 
heavy naval artillery. ... As I personally and officers of 
my staff have repeatedly proved and as unit commanders, 
especially Obergruppenfuhrer Sepp Dietrich, report, the 
enemy has complete control over the battle area and up 
to sixty miles behind the front. Almost all transport on 
roads and in open country is prevented by day by strong 
fighter-bomber and bomber formations. Movements of 
our troops in the battle area by day are also almost com- 
, pletely stopped, while the enemy can move freely. ... It is 
difficult to bring up ammunition and food. . . . Artillery 
taking up positions, tanks deploying, etc. are immediately 
bombarded with annihilating effect. . . . Troops and staffs 
are forced to hide during the day. . . . Neither our flak 
nor the Luftwaffe seems to be in a position to check this 
crippling and destructive operation of the enemy Air 
Force. . . . The effect of heavy naval artillery is so 
strong that operation by infantry or panzer formations in 
the area commanded by it is impossible. . . . The material 
equipment of the Anglo-Americans, with numerous new 
weapons and war material, is far superior to the equip- 
ment of our divisions. As Obergruppenfuhrer Sepp Diet- 
rich informed me, enemy armoured divisions carry on 



224 romMel 

the battle at a range of up to 3500 yards with maximum 
expenditure of ammunition and splendidly supported by 
the enemy Air Force. . . . Parachute and airborne troops 
are used in such large numbers and so effectively that the 
troops attacked have a difficult task in defending them- 
selves. . . . The Luftwaffe has unfortunately not been able 
to take action against these formations as was originally 
planned. Since the enemy can cripple our mobile forma- 
tions with his Air Force by day while he operates with 
fast-moving forces and airborne troops, our position is 
becoming extraordinarily difficult. 

" I request that the Fuhrcr be informed of this. 

" Rommel 99 

If Rommel imagined that the Fuhrcr could be induced to 
accept this " defeatist " view by references to his Nazi 
favourite, Scpp Dietrich, he was very much mistaken. On 
June 17th von Rundstedt managed to persuade Hitler to 
come to a conference at Margival, near Soissons. It was 
held at the headquarters, built in 1940, from which Hitler 
was to control the invasion of Britain. Von Rundstedt took 
Rommel with him. The two Field-Marshals both spoke out 
and left the Fiihrer in no doubt what they thought about 
the prospect of throwing the invaders back into the sea. So 
far from that being possible, the only hope of preventing a 
break-out was to withdraw behind the Orne and continue 
the line to Granville, on the west side of the Cotentin 
peninsula. Such a line, running through the " bocage," close 
country with huge hedgerows, in the east, and thence over 
wooded hills, might perhaps be held with infantry. The 
remaining annour could then be reorganised and kept in 
reserve. Hitler's reply of "no retreat" was almost auto- 
matic. Rommel did not improve the atmosphere by protest- 
ing to Hitler against the *' incident " of Oradour-sur-Glade, 
which had occurred a week before. Here the S.S. Division, 
Das Reich, had, as a reprisal for the killing of a German 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



225 



officer, driven the women and children into the church and 
ihen set the village on fire. As the men and hoys emerged 
from the flames, they mowed them down with machine- 
guns. Afterwards they blew up the church and some six 
hundred women and children with it. It was unfortunate, 
they admitted, that there were two villages named Oradour 
and that they had inadvertently picked the wrong one. Still, 
reprisals had been carried out. Rommel demanded to be 
allowed to punish the Division. " Such things bring disgrace 
on the German uniform," he said. " How can you wonder 
at the strength of the French Resistance behind us when 
the S.S. drive every decent Frenchman into joining it?" 
" That has nothing to do with you," snapped Hitler. ** It is 
outside your area. Your business is to resist the invasion." 

When, greatly daring, von Rundstedt and Rommel ten- 
tatively broached the question of making overtures to the 
Western Powers, the conference quickly broke up. The fare- 
wells were not cordial on either side. Shortly afterwards a 
homing VI hit the headquarters. There were, unfor- 
tunately, no casualties. 

Rommel's reports for the next few weeks were strictly 
factual. No opinions about the future were expressed. 
" Army Group B will continue its attempt to prevent all 
efforts by the enemy to break through " was as far as they 
• -ent. In reporting losses of 100,0.89 officers and men be- 
tween June 6th and July 7th, as against 8395 replacements 
brought to the front and 5303 warned for transfer, Rom- 
mel merely commented : " The replacement situation gives 
grounds for some anxiety in view of increasing losses." He 
Was, in fact, " browned-off." On June 29th he and Field- 
Marshal von Rundstedt had been summoned to Bcrchtes- 
gaden. There the Fiihrer had announced that mobile war- 
fare must not be allowed to develop because of the enemy's 
air superiority and superabundance of motor vehicles and 
fuel. A front must be built to block him off in his bridgehead 
and he must be worn down by a war of attrition. Every 

R. H 



226 



ROMMEL 



method of guerrilla warfare must be employed. For Rom- 
mel's special benefit he added, in front of Keitel and Jodl, 
mat " everything would be all right if you would only fight 
better." Rommel returned, furiously angry, to his head- 
quarters at La Roche Guyon and handed on this bouquet 
to his Chief of Staff, Generalleutnant Dr. Hans Speidel, who 
had succeeded Gausi at the end of April. 

Since General Speidel was to play and was, indeed, 
already secretly playing a much more important part in 
Rommel's life than that of a Chief of Staff, he requires 
special mention. In appearance astonishingly like the then 
British Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, with 
the same somewhat owl-like expression and the same pre- 
hensile nose, he had (and has) an equally clear and exact 
brain and a somewhat more equable and philosophical tem- 
perament. This is not surprising since he is that very rare 
bird, a professional soldier who is also a professional philo- 
sopher. After joining the army in 1914, at the age of seven- 
teen and serving throughout the war on the Western Front, 
part of the time in the same brigade as Rommel, he re- 
mained in it l>etween the wars and started to study for the 
Staff College. At the same time he contrived to read philo- 
sophy and history at Tubingen University and became a 
Doctor of Philosophy summa cum laude in February, 1925. 
If this " double " is not a record, it must at least be rare. 

As a staff-officer, Speidel, with his precise and analytical 
mind and his card-index memory, was marked for success, 
particularly as he combines with them warm, if well- 
concealed, human feelings and a mildly satirical sense of 
humour. Assistant Millitary Attache in Paris in 1933 (he 
speaks impeccable French), he was made chief of the western 
section when he returned to Berlin. After seeing the French 
manoeuvres in 1937 he wrote a pamphlet in which he said 
that the French army was not ready for a modern offensive 
war but that it and its leaders could be counted on for a 
desperate resistance if France were invaded. " Fortunately 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



227 



— or perhaps unfortunately — I was wrong," he remarked. 

1A (Gl) of the 9th Corps at Dunkirk, he confirms that it 
was Hitler's direct order which prevented von Bock from 
using the two armoured corps of Guderian and von Kleist 
against the embarking British. " Had they been put in," he 
says, " not a British soldier could have left the coast of 
France." Shortly afterwards he was sitting in the Hotel 
Grillon in Paris, drafting, with General Dentz, the terms of 
the French surrender. Since we always regarded General 
Dentz as a monster of duplicity for his behaviour in Syria 
and the French condemned him, first to death and then to 
life imprisonment, it is perhaps of interest that General 
Speidel thinks that he did the best he could in the circum- 
stances and was " a patriot and a good soldier of France." 

Speidel next became Chief of Staff to General von 
Stulpnagel, Military Governor of France, and held the 
appointment until the winter of 1941. Then, when he saw 
that all power was passing into the hands of the S.D., the 
securitv police of the S.S., he asked to he relieved of it, a 
fact which throws some light on his character and subse- 
quent behaviour. So docs his long friendship with Colonel- 
General Beck, the former Chief of the General Staff. 

From France, he went to hold various high staff appoint- 
ments in Russia. In front of Moscow with the 5th Army, 
b~ was later largely responsible for the planning of the 
southern offensive of the summer of 1942, which brought 
the Germans to the very verge of victory. As Chief of the 
General Staff of the 8th (Italian) Army throughout 1943 and 
the early months of 1 944 he took part in all the great battles 
of that fateful year. Fatuously enough, I asked General 
Speidel about conditions in Russia. The cold must have been 
very severe? "Very severe, indeed," he agreed blandly, 
" the only thing to be said for it was that it made it almost 
impossible for staff officers to write." As for the causes of 
the ultimate failure : " Too many Russians and one German 
too many — Hitler." 



228 



ROMMEL 



Dr. Speidel, still only fifty-one, is now lecturing on philo- 
sophy at Tubingen University. As will be seen, he reached 
that peaceful haven after a somewhat stormy and adven- 
turous voyage. Meanwhile, amid all the tumult of the 
Normandy fighting, he was the trusted adviser of the 
Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B on other than 
purely military matters. 

On July 1 7 th, the Allied Air Force at last overtook Rom- 
mel. There was nothing unusual in what happened to him. 
His staff-car was only one of thousands of German vehicles 
shot up on the roads of Normandy in July, 1944. Captain 
Helmuth Lang, who was in the car with him, gives the facts. 
From his statement it is clear that they were unlucky in 
picking a road along which our aircraft were operating.* 

'* As he did every day," writes Captain Lang, " Marshal 
Rommel on July 17th made a tour of the front. After visit- 
ing 277th and 276th Infantry Divisions, on whose sectors a 
heavy enemy attack had been repulsed the night before, he 
went to the headquarters of the 2nd S.S. Armoured Corps 
and had a conversation with Generals Bittrich and Sepp 
Dietrich. We had to be careful of enemy aircraft, which 
were flying over the battlefield continually and were quickly 
attracted by dust on the roads. 

" About 4 p.m. Marshal Rommel started on the return 
journey from General Deitrich's headquarters. He was 
anxious to get back to Army Group B headquarters as 
quickly as possible because the enemy had broken through 
on another part of the front. 

" All along the roads we could see transport in flames : 
from time to time the enemy bombers forced us to take to 
second-class roads. About 6 p.m. the Marshal's car was in 
the neighbourhood of Livarot. Transport which had just 

•In an article summarised in the Reader's Digest 9 the Countess Waldcck makes the 
suggestion that the aircraft may have been German with British markings, ordered by 
Hitler to eliminate Rommel because he had sent an " ultimatum * * to the Filhrer on 
July 15th. There is no evidence to support this suggestion and so many improbabilities 
inherent in it that it need not be taken seriously. 



THE ATLANTIC WALL 



229 



been attacked was piled up along the road and strong groups 
of enemy dive-bombers were still at work close by. That is 
why we turned off along a sheltered road, to join the main 
road again two and a half miles from Vimoutiers. 

" When we reached it we saw above Livarot about eight 
enemy dive-bombers. We learnt later that they had been 
interfering with traffic on the road to Livarot for the past 
two hours. Since we thought that they had not seen us, we 
continued along the main road from Livarot to Vimoutiers. 
Suddenly Sergeant Holke, our spotter, warned us that two 
aircraft were flying along the road in our direction. The 
driver, Daniel, was told to put on speed and turn off on to a 
little side road to the right, about 300 yards ahead of us, 
which would give us some shelter. 

" Before we could reach it, the enemy aircraft, flying at 
great speed only a few feet above the road, came up to 
within 500 yards of us and the first one opened fire. Marshal 
Rommel was looking back at this moment. The left-hand 
side of the car was hit by the first burst. A cannon-shell 
shattered Daniel's left shoulder and left arm. Marshal 
Rommel was wounded in the face by broken glass and re- 
ceived a blow on the left temple and cheek-bone which 
caused a triple fracture of the skull and made him lose con- 
sciousness immediately. Major Neuhaus was struck on the 
nolster of his revolver and the force of the blow broke his 
pelvis. 

" As the result of his serious wounds, Daniel, the driver, 
lost control of the car. It struck the stump of a tree, skidded 
over to the left of the road and then turned over in a ditch 
on the right. Captain Lang and Sergeant Holke jumped 
out of the car and took shelter on the right of the road. 
Marslial Rommel, who, at the start of the attack, had hold 
of the handle of the door, was thrown out, unconscious, 
when the car turned over, and lay stretched out on the road 
about twenty yards behind it. A second aircraft flew over 



230 



ROMMEL 



and tried to drop bombs on those who were lying on the 
ground. 

" Immediately afterwards, Marshal Rommel was carried 
into shelter by Captain Lang and Sergeant Holke. He lay 
on the ground unconscious and covered with blood, which 
flowed from the many wounds on his face, particularly from 
his left eye and mouth. It appeared that he had been struck 
on the left temple. Even when we had carried him to safety 
he did not recover consciousness. 

" In order to get medical help for the wounded, Captain 
Lang tried to find a car. It took him about three-quarters 
of an hour to do so. Marshal Rommel had his wounds 
dressed by a French doctor in a religious hospital. They 
were very severe and the doctor said that there was little 
hope of saving his life. Later he was taken, still unconscious, 
with Daniel to an air-force hosnital at Bernay, about 25 
miles away. The doctors there diagnosed severe injuries to 
the skull — a fracture at the base, two fractures on the temple 
and the cheek-bone destroyed, a wound in the left eye, 
wounds from glass, and concussion. Daniel died during the 
night, in spite of a blood transfusion. 

" A few davs later Marshal Rommel was taken to the 
hospital of Professor Esch at Vesinet, near St. Germain." 

Early in July, no doubt as the result of his advice to Keitel 
to make peace, Field-Marshal von Rundstedt had been 
relieved of his command. He was replaced by Field-Marshal 
Gunther von Kluge from the Russian front. Undeterred by 
this warning to defeatists, Rommel decided to make one 
more attempt to bring Hitler to reason. In consultation 
with General Speidel, who drafted it, he had sent a report 
to von Kluge two days before he was wounded and asked 
him to forward it personallv to the Fiihrer. It was along the 
same lines as his analysis of June 12th but even more pessi- 
mistic. 

"The position on the Normandy front," he began, "is 



I 



r H E ATLANTIC WALL 



231 



becoming daily increasingly difficult and is rapidly 
approaching its crisis." There followed references to the 
Allies' superiority in artillery and armour; to the heavy Ger- 
man losses and lack of reinforcements; to the inexperience 
of the divisions brought up; to their inadequate equipment; 
to the destruction of the railway network by air attack and 
the difficulty of using the roads ; to the lack of ammunition 
and the exhaustion of the troops. On the other hand, the 
enemy were daily providing new forces and masses of 
material, their supply lines were not challenged by the Luft- 
waffe and pressure was continually increasing. " In these 
circumstances," concluded Rommel, " it must be expected 
that the enemy will shortly be able to break through our 
thinly-held front, especially in the 7th Army Sector, and 
push far into France. . . . There are no mobile reserves at all 
at our disposal to counter a break-through. Our own air 
force has hardly entered the battle at all. 

" Our troops are fighting heroically but. even so the end 
of this unequal battle is in sight" 

In his own handwriting Rommel added the words, " I 
must beg you to recognise at once the political significance 
of this situation. I feel it my duty, as Commander-in-Chief 
of the Army Group, to say this plainly." 

Von Kluge's covering letter, dated July 21st, is of interest. 
lx shows that, for all the high hopes with which he took over, 
it did not take him long to come to the same conclusion as 
von Rundstedt and Rommel. It also shows him to have been 
a man of considerable moral courage, for he cannot have 
supposed that it would be popular at the Fiihrer's head- 
quarters. 

" My Fuhrer," he wrote, " I forward herewith a report 
from Field-Marshal Rommel, which he gave to me before 
his accident and which he had already discussed with me. I 
have now been here for about fourteen days and, after long 
discussions with the responsible commanders on the various 
fronts, especially the S.S. leaders, I have come to the con- 



232 



ROMMEL 



elusion that the Field-Marshal was, unfortunately, right. . . . 
There is absolutely no way in which we could do battle with 
the all-powerful enemy air force . . . without being forced 
to surrender territory. . . . The psychological effect on the 
fighting forces, especially the infantry, of such a mass of 
bombs raining down on them with all the force of elemental 
nature is a factor that must be seriously considered. Tt is not 
in the least important whether such a carpet of bombs is 
laid on good or bad troops. They are more or less annihilated 
by it and, above all, their equipment is destroyed. It only 
needs this to happen a few times . . . and the power of 
resistance is paralysed. . . 

" I came here with the fixed intention of making effective 
your order to make a stand at any price. But when one sees 
that this price must be paid by the slow but sure destruction 
of our troops — T am thinking of the Hitler Youth division, 
which has earned the highest praise . . . then the anxiety 
about the immediate future on this front is only too well 
justified. . . . 

" In spite of all our endeavours, the moment is fast 
approaching when this overtaxed front is bound to break 
up. ... T consider it my duty as the responsible commander 
to bring these developments to your notice in good time, my 
Fiihrer." 

Five weeks later Field-Marshal von Kluge had been 
superseded and was dead. With death everywhere about for 
the asking and stray bullets making heroes of frightened 
men every moment of the day and night, he chose to die by 
his own hand. He felt, he said, that he failed his Fiihrer in 
the control of the operations. This wns not, however, his 
only reason for being unwilling to meet him. 



Chapter Eleven 



"A PITILESS DESTINY" 

■ 

Whfn, after the explosion of the atomic bomb, American 
sailors went aboard the surviving target ships at Bikini, they 
gradually became gripped by a strange, obsessive fear. 
"Decks you can't stay on for more than a few minutes; air 
you can't breathe without a gas-mask but which smells like 
all other air; water you can't swim in; fish you can't eat : it's 
a fouled-up world," they said. For fission products, having 
fallen like a coat of paint over these ships, could not be 
washeJ off by the Navy's old prescription of a good scrub- 
down fore and aft. The neutrons and gamma rays remained, 
dctectible only by Geigcr counters but threatening disease, 
disintegration and the novel horror of atomic death. 

One need not be psychic or even unduly sensitive to 
atmosphere to feel that something evil, not to be registered 
b\ r Oeiger counters, still hangs in the air of Germany to-day. 
Miasmas no longer arise from the ruined cities, the country- 
side is clean and beautiful. Relieved from the worst of their 
material distress, the Germans go cheerfully enough about 
their work. In the village inns in the evenings they sing and 
dance and drink their beer more lightheartedly than most of 
us. Hatred of the occupying troops and their camp- 
followers is doubtless there but it is well concealed. Why, 
then, is one seldom quite at ease? Perhaps because one 
knows that so many of the Gestapo and S.S. are still at large, 
with false papers or free because those who might accuse 
them are buried; that the polite young man who waits on 
one so attentively in the hotel may have the blood of hun- 
dreds on his hands. (A Gestapo agent, wanted for sixty 

233 



234 



ROMMEL 



separate murders, was recently identified in the popular in- 
terpreter of a British camp.) Perhaps the reason is a little 
more remote — that the taint of the Nazi regime, which has 
not disappeared with the suicide or execution of its leaders, 
will not vanish with the death of the last of their accom- 
plices. The acid of the unceasing spying and suspicion, of 
arrests at dawn, of torture and sadism and murder in cellars, 
above all, of the lying and hypocrisy which pervade a police 
state, has eaten in too deep. Like the fission products, it can- 
not be washed out. The shadow of Hitler still darkens the 

■- 

German scene. " It's a fouled-up world.'* 

At least, so I felt as I listened to the story of the last days 
of Rommel and of the manner of his end. Not that there 
was anything at all sinister about the surroundings in which 
I heard it or anything at all morbid about those who told 
it to me. On the contrary, when I sat in General Speidei's 
house above the peaceful Black Forest town of Freudenstadt, 
I had a feeling almost of nostalgia for the Victorian and 
Edwardian interiors of my childhood. It was in just such 
houses as this, a little over-furnished to modern taste but 
so well-ordered, so solidly and smugly comfortable (though 
never, perhaps, quite so incredibly clean), that the English, 
too, used to live their comfortable and well-ordered lives, 
their money in sound investments, their trust in God and the 
Government, the servants in their place, the cat on the 
hearth, the policeman on his beat. One might liave been in 
North Oxford, forty years ago. 

Frau Rommel's little house, though it is filled with relics 
of Rommel, though paintings and photographs of him cover 
the walls, though his death-mask is kept in a case in a corner, 
has the same atmosphere of tranquillity and security. So has 
Aldinger's. So has that in which I found Dr. Strolin, the last 
of my informants. In each the story had to be interrupted 
and papers removed so that an embroidered cloth could be 
laid for tea. In each the china was Meissen, cherished and 
unchipped and afterwards restored to its cabinet. In each 



"a pitiless destiny" 



235 



were those once familiar four-decker cake-stands which 
might be the symbol of a vanished age. 

As for General Speidel, he looks what in fact he is, a don. 
His wife, much too young, one would say, to be the mother 
of a seventeen-year-old daughter, might never have had a 
care in the world beyond minor domestic worries. The 
children are handsome, punctiliously well-mannered and 
brought up to speak when they are spoken to. Aldinger and 
his wife are typical pillars of small- town society. Dr. Strolin 
has the assured air of a man long accustomed to position 
and authority. Frau Lucie Maria Rommel, though her 
strong face is heavily lined, shows no other sign of an ex- 
perience as harrowing as any woman has had to undergo. 
Much more Northern Italian than German in appearance, 
with her black hair and grey eyes, she has none of the senti- 
mentality to be found in so many Germans. When she speaks 
of " mein Mann" it is cheerfully and with pride. For nearly 
thirty years they had a good life together, in spite of two 
wars, dnd were happy. Of her husband's end she is willing 
to talk when one has her confidence. She does so without 
bitterness but with great disdain for those who were respon- 
sible. Only once did she show how deep her feelings still are 
after five years. When we drove up together to her former 
house on the hill above Herrlingen, now a school, she stayed 
in the car outside the .gates. " I like to see the children in 
the garden," she said, "but I do not wish to go in there 
again." 

Manfred, the son, now studying law at Tubingen Univer- 
sity, is a pleasant and perfectly normal young man, devoted 
to his mother and to the memory of his father, and entirely 
free, so far as one can judge, of any "complexes." He is 
neither unbalanced nor embittered by what he saw at the 
impressionable ape of fifteen. 

Yet, against this background of almost Victorian nor- 
mality, elsewhere now hard to find, these seemingly normal 
oeople had been involved, or had deliberately involved 



236 



ROMMEL 



themselves, in a struggle with a regime so ruthless that 
death was far from the worst of its punishments for those 
who challenged it. It was this contrast which, to me, made 
the whole story more disquieting and macabre. Incidentally, 
they had all displayed a four o'clock in the morning courage 
which convinced me that their nerves were stronger than 
my own. 

Rommel returned from North Africa in March, 1943, 
having, as they say, " had " Hitler. For a long time he had 
known that Keitel and Jodl were both professionally and 
privately his enemies. Goering he despised and distrusted, 
suspecting him of having been prejudiced by Kesselring 
against himself and the Afrika Korps. Recently he had been 
warned by General Schmundt that his stock had slumped 
with the Party bosses and particularly with the mysteriously 
influential Bormann. He had, in fact, no friend at court 
except Schmundt himself, who still spoke up for him. How- 
ever, until after El Alamein he continued to believe that the 
trouble with the Fiihrer was his entourage and that he would 
act fairly and see reason if only he would free himself from 
his sycophants. 

Now he had no such illusions. He had come to realise that 
there was in Adolf Hitler neither fairness, generosity nor 
loyalty to those who served him. Nor was he open to reason. 
This was a distressing revelation to Rommel, a straight- 
forward, simple man with little subtlety, except in battle. 
Since he had never been a political soldier and was com- 
pletely out of touch with current politics, the shock was at 
first purely personal and professional. He had lost faith in 
a man who had been his friend and patron and was head 
of the armed forces. It was only gradually that he came to 
see that more than victory was being endangered, that, 
thanks to Hitler, Germany was on the way to degradation 
as well as to defeat. 

His eyes were opened during the months he was in Ger- 

m 



"a pitiless destiny" 



237 



many before he took over command of Army Group B. He 
had long disapproved of the Nazi M scum." For the first 
time he now learnt at first hand from German officers what 
the Gestapo and the S.S. had done in Poland and Russia, 
what they were still doing there and in the occupied coun- 
tries of Western Europe. For theiirst time he learnt of slave 
labour, of the mass extermination of Jews, of the battle of 
the Warsaw ghetto, of gas-chambers and the rest of it. In 
North Africa it had been assumed that Germany was fight- 
ing " a gentleman's war." 

It was characteristic of Rommel that he went straight to 
Hitler himself with these discoveries. " If such things are 
allowed to go on," he said, " we shall lose the war." He then 
proposed the disbandment of the Gestapo and the splitting 
up of the S.S. among the regular forces. At the same time he 
begged Hitler to stop the enlistment of very young boys. " It 
is madness," he said, " to destroy the youth of the country." 
Such ingenuousness must have staggered Hitler. It may 
have amused Himmler, if Hitler communicated Rommel's 
proposals to him. Strangely enough, the Fiihrer condes- 
cended to argue with Rommel at some length. But he left 
no doubt in the latter's mind that he had not the slightest 
intention of changing his methods. Rommel thus realised 
that his master's crimes were of commission also. 

During the early part of the summer he brooded over 
these matters and for the first time in his life, became poli- 
tically conscious. His conclusions were those of many other 
German generals. Hitler would lead the country to ruin. 
He ought, therefore, to be curbed. So long as he had the 
Party, the S.S. and many young officers and soldiers of the 
Reichswehr behind him, there was no way of removing him 
short of civil war. It might be sufficient to remove his 
advisers and keep him as a figurehead, without any real 
authority. How could that be done? Before Rommel had 
followed out this line he was appointed to Army Group B 
and went off, first to Northern Italy and afterwards to 



238 



ROMMEL 



France. He put the whole problem temporarily at the back 
of his mind and, as was usual with him, applied himself to 
the work in hand. 

There were others, however, whose plans were more ad- 
vanced and who for some time had had their eyes on Rom- 
mel. Dr. Goerdeler, Mayor of Leipzig, and Colonel-General 
Beck, former Chief of the General Staff, were the key men 
in the conspiracy against Hitler. They realised that, if it 
were to have any chance of success, they must find a popular 
figure, a modern Hindenburg, to put at the head of it when 
the time came. He must he one who already had the public 
confidence and who could not be suspected of acting from 
self-interest. He must be a soldier whom the Army would 
follow. General Beck, though his character and ability were 
of the highest, would not do. The majority of Germans had 
hardly heard of him and he had been dismissed by Hitler as 
far back as 1938. Among the serving generals there was none 
with a reputation, in the eyes of the public, which 
approached that of Rommel. After Hitler himself, he was 
probably the most popular man in Germany. Politically 
there was nothing against him. He had, indeed, to his own 
annoyance, been built up by the propagandists as a good 
Nazi. At the same time he was known to be respected by 
the British, with whom, at the crucial moment, he would 
have to treat. Outside a small circle, no one knew that he 
was at cross-purposes with the Ffihrer. He was, therefore, 
the obvious choice, indeed the only one. 

Fortunately the conspirators had just the right contact in 
Dr. Karl Strolin, Qkcrbur germeister or Mayor of Stuttgart 
from 1933 and well-known abroad as chairman of the last 
meeting before the war of the International Federation for 
Housing and Town Planning. Immensely popular in Stutt- 
gart and a man of great energy and ability, Dr. Strolin was 
one of those who had originally been a strong supporter of 
Hitler and the Party. That it was possible to be a Nazi, at 



"a pitiless destiny" 



239 



least at first, without being a gangster is shown by a tribute 
paid to Strolin by the Consul-General of the United States 
in Stuttgart, who knew him there for seven years, from 1934 
to 1941. "He is a man of the highest humane principles," 
he wrote in 1948, " as is confirmed by what I heard of him 
from Americans and Germans alike and especially from 
members of the Jewish faith, many of whom spoke of him 
with great appreciation and reverence. His nobility of 
cliaracter and untiring efforts on behalf of those in distress 
should entitle him to the greatest respect of the German 
people, as well as of those whom he seived so unselfishly." 

It was the rape of Czechoslovakia which turned Dr. Strolin 
against Hitler; it was his friendship with Dr. Goerdeler 
which made him a conspirator. Though he contrived, as- 
tonishingly, to pemain Mayor of Stuttgart until the end of 
the war, he worked actively against the Nazis from 1939 
onwards. The story of how he saved twenty-one members of 
the French Resistance, condemned to death in Alsace, has 
been told by one of them. It does the greatest credit to his 
intelligence and courage. 

As an infantry captain in the first war, he served with 
Rommel in 1918, after being twice wounded, on the staff of 
the 64th Corps. Because they were both front-line soldiers 
and unhappy on the staff, they became friends. Though 
^Volin's interests were much wider than Rommel's the 
friendship had been maintained between the wars. Recently 
Strolin had helped Rommel to move his family from Wiener 
Neustadt to Wurttemberg. 

It was through Frau Rommel that Strolin started to work. 
In August, 1943, he had the courage to put his name to a 
document, which he and Goerdeler had drafted, demanding 
that the persecution of Jews and of the Churches be aban- 
doned, that civil rights be restored and that the administra- 
tion of justice be taken out of the hands of the Party. This 
heretical paper was sent to the Secretary of the Ministry of 



240 



ROMMEL 



the Interior. Strolin was promptly warned that he would be 
put on trial for " crimes against the Fatherland " if he did 
not keep quiet. "At least I was now satisfied," he said, 
" that nothing could be done by legal methods." 

Strolin gave a copy of the paper to Frau Rommel. To- 
wards the end of November or when he was home on short 
leave for Christmas, she cannot remember which, she in 
turn handed it to her husband. It made a profound im- 
pression on him, since his own mind had been working in the 
same direction. In December, Strolin also managed to visit 
Frau Rommel at Herrlinger when he knew that General 
Gausi, Rommel's Chief of Staff, would be there. His inten- 
tion was merely to ask for an interview with Rommel but 
he found that Gausi was also against Hitler, having recently 
had to deal with some of his Gauleiters. 

The fateful interview took place in Rommel's house in 
Herrlingen towards the end of February, 1944. Strolin had 
to make his way there secretly. He had been warned by the 
ex-Commissioner of Police at Stuttgart, the same Hahn 
whom Rommel had known in 1919, that he was on the list 
of those for immediate liquidation should a resistance move- 
ment develop in Germany. He also knew that his telephone 
was tapped and his conversations recorded. 

The interview lasted between five and six hours and 
Strolin still has a vivid recollection of it. "I began," he 
said, " by discussing the political and military situation of 
Germany. We found ourselves in complete agreement. I 
then said to Rommel, ' If you agree about the situation you 
must see what it is necessary to do. 1 I told him that certain 
senior officers of the Army in the East proposed to make 
Hitler a prisoner and to force him to announce over the 
radio that he had abdicated. Rommel approved of the idea. 
Neither then nor at any time afterwards was he aware of 
the plan to kill Hitler. 

" I went on to say to him," continued Strolin, " that he 
was our greatest and most popular general and more res- 



"a pitiless destiny" 



241 



pected abroad than any other. 'You are the only one,' I 
said, 'who can prevent civil war in Germany. You must 
lend your name to the movement.' I did not tell him that 
it was proposed to make him President of the Reich : the 
idea was not, in fact, suggested until I returned and had a 
talk with Goerdeler, and I don't think he ever heard of it 
until the last day of his life. 

" Rommel hesitated. I asked him again whether he saw 
any chance of winning the war, perhaps by means of the 
secret weapons. Rommel said that he knew nothing about 
secret weapons except what he had read in the propaganda 
reports, but that he personally saw no chance. Militarily, it 
was already lost. Did he think that Hitler realised how bad 
things were? ' I doubt it,' said Rommel, * in any case he 
lives on illusions.' Gould he not ask for an interview and 
try to open his eyes? 4 1 have tried several times," said Rom- 
mel, ' but I have never succeeded. I don't mind trying again, 
but they are suspicious of me at headquarters and certainly 
won't leave me alone with him. That fellow Bormann is 
always there.' 

"We left it that Rommel should try, at some suitable 
moment, to see Hitler and bring him to reason. If that 
failed, he should write him a letter setting out the whole 
situation, explaining to him the impossibility of winning the 
war and asking him to accept the political consequences. 
Finally, as a last resort, he should himself take direct action. 
He thought it over for some time and said at length : ' I 
believe it is my duty to come to the rescue of Germany.' 
With that I had no more doubts. He was not a highly in- 
tellectual man, he understood no more of politics than he did 
of the arts. But he was the soul of honour and would never 
go back on his word. Moreover, unlike most of the generals, 
he was a man with the courage to act." 

In April, Strolin found a new ally when General Speidel 
was appointed Rommel's Chief of Staff. He was already in 
touch with the conspirators. Thereafter Strolin was in almost 



242 



ROMMEL 



daily contact with him by courier and, through him, with 
Rommel. Speidel had discussions with his former chief, 
General Heinrich von Stulpnagel, Military Governor of 
France, and with General von Falkenhausen, Military 
Governor of Belgium. In some Rommel took part, about 
all he was kept informed. Stulpnagel was on the inner ring 
of the conspiracy. Together he and Speidel worked out the 
heads of an armistice agreement with Generals Eisenhower 
and Montgomery. If Hitler had not already been removed, 
it was to be made independently of him. It provided for 
the evacuation of the occupied territories in the west. In 
the east a shortened front would be maintained. 

In fact, the western Allies could not have agreed to such 
conditions. They were pledged not to make a separate peace 
without Russia. Moreover they had round their necks the 
"putrifying albatross " of unconditional surrender. 
Clamped on by their own choioe at Casablanca, it 
"whipped the Germans together under the swastika," 
strengthened Hitler, prolonged the war and cost many thou- 
sands of British and American lives. 'Speidel and Stulpnagel, 
however, supposed that Mr. Churchill and President Roose- 
velt would welcome the chance of keeping the Red Armies 
out of Western Europe, provided they did not have to make 
terms with Hitler or the Nazis. 

On May 27th another important meeting was held in 
Speidel's house at Freudcnstadt. It was called at Rommel's 
request. There were present Speidel himself, representing 
Rommel, Strolin and von Neurath, former Foreign Minister 
of Germany and later Gauleiter of Czechoslovakia. Von 
Neurath was afterwards sentenced to fifteen years' imprison- 
ment at Nuremberg. He must have thought it somewhat 
ironical that he had already run the risk of punishment far 
more severe at the hands of Hitler. I sat up with a slight 
start when General Speidel said casually : " We met around 
this table; von Neurath had the chair in which you are 
sitting." 



"a pitiless destiny" 



243 



With the German passion for documentation, Strolin had 
written a special memorandum. It gave, he said, a complete 
expose of the present position and was intended for Rom- 
mel's guidance. u And do you mean to say," I asked him, 
"that you put all that on paper?" "Yes," he replied, "I 
had it copied in longhand in my office by one of my em- 
ployees. He was very frightened and burnt the blotting 
paper afterwards. I don't think General Speidel much liked 
carrying it either. However, he went off with his copy in 
his pocket and T brought mine back with me to Stuttgart." 
It was like carrying a Mills bomb with the pin out. 

Rommel himself was not as " security-minded " as he 
should have been. He spoke very freely in the mess about 
the war and about the Fiihrcr. Since he could trust his per- 
sonal staff, this would not have mattered had his orderly 
officer. Captain Hclmuth Lang, not been more conscientious 
than discriminating. He kept the war diary, written in the 
first person as though personally by Rommel, and it was his 
duty, he felt, to record not merely the happenings of the 
day but the obiter dicta of the Field- Marshal. He was scru- 
pulous in doing so. Rommel was amused when he saw an 
entry : " 0700 hrs. — had breakfast (omelette), 0730 hrs.— 
battle of Caen begins." He was also amused when he read : 
" Went for a walk with Captain Lang and Field-Marshal 

von Kluge " and " discussed military situation with Captain 
Lang : he agrees with my views." He was not, however, so 
much amused when, idly turning over the pages, he came 
across: "Hitler's orders are nonsense; the man must be 
mad," and " Every day is costing lives unnecessarily; it is 
essential to make peace at once." "Good God, man," he 
said to Lang, " you are going to bring me to the scaffold !" 
Aldinger was instructed to prepare a revised and expur- 
gated version at once. Later Manfred and he burnt the 
original, which Aldinger had apparently intended to keep 
on his file. This typically German practice of reducing 



244 



ROMMEL 



everything to writing and of preserving the most incrimi- 
nating documents hanged many of the conspirators. 

At the May 27th meeting, General Speidel drew the mili- 
tary picture. When he had finished, von Neurath said : 
" With Hitler we can never have peace : you must tell Rom- 
mel that he must be prepared to act on his own responsibi- 
lity. ,, That was the feeling of the others also and that was 
the message which General Speidel took back to the head- 
quarters at La Roche Guyon. 

Meanwhile Rommel's will to act had been fortified from 
a very strange quarter. Ernest Junger, author of Storm of 
Steel, the front-line soldier who believed, even after 1914-18, 
that war was the noblest occupation of man, was one of the 
first to write against the Nazis in an allegorical novel, the 
Marble Cliff, which was suppressed. He had now secretly 
prepared a draft peace treaty, founded on the- idea of a 
Europe united on the basis of Christianity — the abolition of 
frontiers and the return of the masses to the Christian faith. 
Only thus could the threat of Bolshevism be defeated. Rom- 
mel found it moving and convincing and was anxious that 
it should be published when the opportunity came. It was 
now for him to create that opportunity. 

From February onwards Rommel was in perhaps the most 
extraordinary position in which any General ever found 
himself. On tlie one hand he was the chosen defender of 
the Atlantic Wall, entrusted by Hitler with the task of 
defeating the invasion on the beaches. As such he was again 
being publicised in the German Press : as such he was re- 
garded, not only by the Allies but by the German Army. On 
the other hand he was convinced that the invasion could not, 
in fact, be defeated and was secretly committed to proposing 
an armistice to Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery when 
it succeeded — unless he could first bring Hitler to reason. 

This dilemma he discussed in many long talks with 
Admiral Ruge. "To continue the war is crazy," hie said. 
•* Every day costs us one of our towns— to what purpose ? 



"a pitiless destiny" 



245 



Merely to make it more certain that Communism will sweep 
over Europe and bring all the Western Powers down to- 
gether. If we have the atomic bomb, I suppose it is our 
duty to go on, since it may decide the war in our favour and 
whoever has it first is certain to use it. Personally I am sure 
that we have not got it, for all the talk, and that we ought 
to make peace." At the same time he recognised that it was 
no use thinking of trying to make peace independently of 
Hitler unless and until the invasion succeeded. " In Africa 
I was my own master," he said, " and the troops looked to 
me for decisions. Here I am only Hitler's deputy." Sub- 
jected daily to intensive propaganda and believing implicitly 
in the mysterious secret weapons, the rank-and-file would 
have regarded any one who spoke of surrender as a traitor 
and, with most of the junior officers, would have refused to 
follow him. Thus an attempt had to be made to defeat the 
invasion and at the same time preparations had to be made 
for an approach to the Allies. 

By a remarkable feat of mental balance Rommel con- 
trived to ride these two horses together. As a soldier he did 
his utmost to arouse the sleeping army of the west and to 
inspire the troops with the determination to prevent a land- 
ing. He also worked night and day to improve the neglected 
defences of the Atlantic Wall. In his orders he declared that 
it was, or soon would be, impregnable. The Allied com- 
manders themselves were given an exaggerated idea of its 
actual strength. When the landing was successfully made, 
he battled desperately to throw the invaders off the beaches. 
Had he been completely single-minded, had he believed im- 
plicitly in his own predictions, he could not have done more. 
Nor could any general have more persistently risked his own 
life. He thus kept faith, professionally, with the Fuhrer. 
He also kept faith with the Army. There was not a hint of 
irresolution in his leadership. Though he had always hated 
sacrificing troops unnecessarily, he flung them in in counter- 
attacks, with what feelings-may be imagined. " I have never 



246 



ROMMEL 



* 

before sent men to certain death," he said to Ruge. His 
strategy and tactics may be criticised : no one on our side 
has ever suggested that he " pulled his punches." 

At the same time he fulfilled to the letter the conditions 
lie had made at his meeting with Dr. Strolin in February. 
His situation report of June 12th gave Hitler fair warning 
that things were " extraordinarily difficult " and that Allied 
superiority, particularly in the air, left little hope of prevent- 
ing a break-out. On June 17th at Soissons he had the per- 
sonal interview which it was agreed that he should seek. He 
then gave Hitler a military alternative to asking for peace — 
that of taking up a defensive line behind the Orne. When 
permission could not be obtained, both he and von Rund- 
stedt broached the question of coming to terms with the 
Western Powers. Finally, on July 15th, he sent his last 
message to Hitler. Before he received a reply and thus be- 
fore he could take the final step of an approach to the Allied 
commanders, he was wounded. Only in this one particular 
did the agreed programme remain unfulfilled. 

As things turned out, it would have been better had Rom- 
mel died of his wounds. Most men would have done so. He 
showed once again his extraordinary resilience and vitality. 
Baron von Esebeck, who himself had a narrow escape, since 
he usually travelled with Rommel and only stayed at head- 
quarters on Jury 1 7th to write a " piece " about him, saw 
him in the hospital at Vesinet about July 23rd. He was sit- 
ting on the side of his bed. " I'm glad it's you," said Rom- 
mel : " I was afraid it was the doctor. He won't allow me 
to sit up." " I'm sure he thinks I am going to die," he added, 
" but I haven't any intention of dying. You'd better take a 
picture of me." With this, he stood up, put on his uniform 
jacket over his pyjamas and made von Esebeck take a photo- 
graph in profile, showing the right, or undamaged, side of 
his face. " The British will be able to see that they haven't 
managed to kill me yet," he said. He then went on to speak 



"a pitiless destiny" 247 

(quite normally to von Esebeck and repeated what he had 
already told him on June 12th, after he had written his 
report to Hitler, that the war was lost. " He was especially 
bitter," said von Esebeck, "about the complete failure of 
the Luftwaffe. He said nothing about the attempt on 
Hitler's life." 

Speidel and Rugc also visited Rommel a few days after 
he was wounded. They found that he had succeeded in 
shaving himself! An unfortunate Surgeon-Major-General 
who told him that he must really keep quiet was severely 
" bitten." " Don't tell me what I must do or mustn't do," 
said Rommel, " I know what I can do." Thereafter Ruge 
visited him nearly every day to read to him. " I read a 
book called The Tunnel by Kellermann," he said. " It was 
about building a tunnel from Europe to the United States, 
exactly the sort of thing he liked. We used to talk about 
4 after the war.' He had been very much impressed by the 
enormous rise and fall of tide on the coast of Brittany and 
said that he would like to be actively interested in a project 
for drawing power from the tides. Anyway, he wanted to 
do something technical and practical." 

With Admiral Ruge, Rommel spoke freely about the plot. 
" That was altogether the wrong way to go about it," he 
said. *' The man is a devil incarnate but why try to make 
p hero and a martyr of him ? He should have been arrested 
by the Army and brought to trial. The Hitler legend will 
never be destroyed until the German people know the whole 
truth." 

" I was in fear for Rommel," said Ruge, " and hoped that 
it might be possible to get him into the hands of the British. 
But, good friends as we wore, I never plucked up courage to 
suggest it to him. In any case he was bent on going home." 

On August 8th, in spite of the objections of Professor 
Esch, chief medical officer at Vesinet, and of Dr. Schennig, 
of Army Group B, Rommel insisted on being removed to his 



248 



ROMMEL 



house at Herrlingen. "He was determined," said Frai 
Rommel, 11 not to fall, seriously wounded, into eneim 
hands." Both doctors accompanied him. They put him ii 
charge of Professors Albrecht and Stock of the clinic o 
Tubingen University. Professor Albrecht specialised in braii 
surgery. When he examined Rommel's injuries he said, " 1 
shall have to revise my lectures to my pupils. No man can 
be alive with wounds like that." Tie added that he would 
have preferred to have Rommel in his nursing-home at 
Tubingen " for his own protection." 

Contrary to all expectation, the wounds mended quickly. 
Rommel became visiblv stronger every day. Meanwhile 
Frau Rommel found it strange that, of all the high digni- 
taries of the Reich and of the Army Command, no one took 
the trouble to telephone to inquire about his condition. 

Had she but known it, the hand of Hitler was already 
closing over her husband. He would have been suspect in 
any case, for the " defeatist " views which he had expressed. 
But there was a track which led straight to him. On the 
evening of July 20th, when it was already known that the 
attempt had failed and that Hitler was alive and giving 
orders, General Heinrich von Stulpnagcl was summoned by 
Field-Marshal von Kluee to La Roche Ouyon. Von Kluge 
was privy to the plot but not actively concerned in it. Had 
it succeeded, he would have gone over openly to the con- 
spirators and himself approached the Allies for an armistice. 
As things were, he was of opinion that there was now 
nothing to be done. He said as much to von Stulpnagel. 
Then, to his horror, he leant that, before leaving Paris, von 
Stulpnagel had already ordered the arrest of the Gestapo 
and the S.D., the S.S. security police. Moreover, he ex- 
pected von Kluge to proceed with the original plan. Von 
Kluge at once made it clear that he had no intention of 
doing anything of the sort. After a very strained discussion 
he told von Stulpnagel to go back to Paris and release the 
S.D. immediately. 



"a pitiless destiny" 



249 



The commander of the S.S., General Oberg, was prepared 
to try to hush things up and pretend that von StulpnagePs 
orders for arrest had been merely an exercise. Next day, 
however, there came a message for General von Stulpnagel 
to report to Army Headquarters in Berlin. He set off by 
car. At what moment in that long drive he determined to 
take his life, no one can tell. Perhaps it was as he neared 
Verdun, where he had fought with distinction in the bloody 
battles of the first war. That, at any rate, was the spot he 
chose. He made his driver take the car to the banks of the 
Meuse canal and leave him. Wading in, he drew his pistol 
and shot himself through the head. He succeeded only in 
destroying his eyes. The driver heard the shot, found him 
and pulled him out of the water. He drove him, unconscious, 
to the hospital in Verdun. An operation was performed and 
an eye removed. As he began to recover consciousness, von 
Stulpnagel called out repeatedly, " Rommel !" According 
to Colonel Wulfgang Muller, it was the surgeon who com- 
municated with the Gestapo in Paris. According to General 
Speidel, the S.S. and Gestapo were already standing around 
his bed. The discrepancy may be merely one of time. The 
Gestapo heard, at first or second hand. It was in the com- 
pany of the Gestapo that General von Stiilpnagel completed 
his journey to Berlin. There he was tortured. No one knows 
what he said, if indeed, he said anything more. In his 
delirium he had already said enough. Having been tortured, 
he was tried and hanged. Speidel say that he was a brave 
and honourable man, " chevalier sans pcur et sans 
reproche." It is a pity that he was not more accurate with 
his pistol. When, on August 18th, Field-Marshal von Kluge, 
also summoned to Berlin, decided to follow the same path, 
he took poison and made no mistake. 

At Herrlingen the weeks passed quietly, the Only events 
the visits of Professor Albrecht. He was delighted with his 
patient's progress. Rommel was able to get up and to sit 



250 



ROMMEL 



in the garden in the sunshine and soon to go for walks. 
There was only one rather strange incident during his early 
convalescence. In the middle of August, not long after his 
return home, a man tried to get into the house by a sub- 
terranean passage which led to the air-raid shelter. When 
challenged and fired on by the guard, he fled. No great 
attention was paid to this affair. There were many queer 
characters, deserters, escaped prisoners-of-war and foreign 
labourers, on the run in Germany during the summer of 

1944. 

On September 6th, Rommel had another unexpected 
visitor. General Speidel came to the house to tell him that 
he had been suspended the day before from duty as Ghief 
of Staff to Army Group B. To-morrow he was to report to 
Berlin to General Guderian, now Ghief of Staff to the Army 
Command. " He told us/' said Frau Rommel, " that Keitel 
and Jodl had been talking of my husband as a ' defeatist ' 
and warned him to beware of them. Because of his state 
of health he told him no more. My husband imagined that 
they were looking for someone to blame for the military 
situation in the west He thought that this explained why 
the German press and radio had spoken of his * accident ' 
and not of an enemy attack and why they had been so slow 
in publishing the news that foreign papers came out with it 
several days before." 

General Speidel was not given the chance to report to 
Berlin. Perhaps it was feared, from a misreading of his 
character, that, like Field-Marshal von Kluge, Generals 
Beck, von Stiilpnagel and others, he would try to take the 
easier way out. At 6 a.m. there was a heavy knock at the 
door of his house in Freudenstadt. It was an S.S. officer with 
an armed guard. General Speidel was to accompany him 
immediately. In such haste was he that he did not stop to 
search the house. Frau Speidel was able to remove a photo- 
graph of General Beck which hung (and still hangs) in a 



ft "a pitiless destiny" 251 

place of honour in the sitting-room. She was also able to 
hide certain papers. Her husband was carried off by car to 
Stuttgart and thence by train, closely guarded, to Berlin 
and the Gestapo prison on the Prinz Albrechtstrasse. His 
personal assistant telephoned later in the morning to Herr- 
lingcn and informed Rommel of the arrest. It was never 
officially communicated, though Rommel was still nominally 
in command of Army Group B. Rommel wrote a letter of 
protest to Hitler personally, which he sent to Sepp Dietrich, 
asking him to forward it to the Fu'hrer. If it was forwarded 
Hitler sent no reply. 

That afternoon friends in Herri ingen warned Frau Rom- 
mel by telephone that two suspicious-looking men had been 
seen near their house, apparently trying to get into the 
grounds. When approached, they had moved off. Aldinger 
was able to establish that, about 3.30 p.m., the two men, 
one of whom wore dark glasses, had taken post in the woods, 
on the high ground behind the house. He also learnt that 
they had new passports which described them as engineers 
from Regensburg. They said that they were employed on 
war work and had been evacuated to the Hcrrlingen area. 
The proprietor of a local inn also reported to Rommel's 
secretary, Adjutant Bottchcr, who had been with him for 
some years, that the men had cars parked near his premises. 

In the evening, having learned of Speidel's arrest, Strolin 
took the risk of coming over from Stuttgart to Herrlingen. 
He found the house guarded and Rommel, distressed and 
in some degree alarmed, made a sign to him to speak in 
whispers. An overhearing set mirrht somehow have been 
slipped into the house, he said. On his desk was a pistol. 
Strolin asked him why he wanted it. " Vm not afraid oi 
the English or the Americans," said Rommel, " only of the 
Russians — and the Germans." He then showed Strolin a 
copy of the message he had sent to Hitler and they discussed 
whether there was any possibility of helping Speide' Rom- 



252 



ROMMEL 



mel explained that he had already telephoned to Army 
Command but could get no satisfaction. Nor would they 
even tell him why his Chief of Staff had been arrested. It 
was the last time Stroiin saw Rommel alive. Frau Rommel 
telephoned soon afterwards to ask him not to come to the 
house again. She already feared the Gestapo. 

There was another visitor a few days later. This was one 
Maier, the local Party boss from Ulm. He came ostensibly 
as a friend, and asked Rommel, while they were having tea, 
whedier he could trust his servants. The head of the S.S. in 
Ulm had told him, he said, that Rommel no longer believed 
in the possibility of victory and was in the habit of criticising 
Hitler and the High Command. Even Manfred felt that 
his father spoke too freely to Maier. "Victory!" he ex- 
claimed, " why don't you look at the map ? The British are 
here, the Americans are here, the Russians are here : what is 
the use of talking about victory?" When Maier said some- 
thing about Hitler, Rommel replied, " That damned fool !" 
Maier begged him to be more careful. " You should not say 
things like that, Field-Marshal," he warned him ; " you will 
have the Gestapo after you — if they are not after you 
already." 

An Italian journalist has recently produced a story to 
the effect that Maier went home and wrote a thirty-page 
report on this conversation, which he took next day to Ber- 
lin and handed personally to Bormann. The Rommels do 
not believe it. Maier, who came from Heidenheim, spent 
some months with Manfred Rommel in a French prisoners- 
of-war camp at Lindau and assured him that he had never 
had any suspicion that his father had been murdered. He 
later died in an American concentration camp and cannot 
be questioned. The story may very well be true. The em- 
ployment of a stool-pigeon was an old Nazi trick. 

A month passed before the next move was made. Rommel 
was now able to go by car to Tubingen for treatment. He 
was due to do so on October 10th. On the 7th a telephone 



"a pitiless destiny" 



253 



message came from Field-Marshal Keitel. Rommel was to 
he in Berlin on the 10th for an important interview. A 
special train would be provided for him on the evening of 
the 9th. Rommel telephoned to Professor Albrecht to pul 
off his treatment, explaining that he had been summoned 
to Berlin. Both Albrecht and Stock advised him strongly 
against undertaking so long a journey. Rommel told Aldin- 
ger to get on to Keitel personally. The telephone was 
answered by General Burgdorf, head of the Army Personnel 
branch. "My husband spoke to him himself," said Frau 
Rommel. " Captain Aldinger and I were in the room. He 
asked him to tell Field-Marshal Keitel that the doctors 
would not allow him to travel in his present state of health. 
Then he went on to ask what it was all about and whether 
it would not be possible to send an officer to see him. General 
Burgdorf replied that the Fiihrer had given orders that 
Field-Marshal Keitel should see him to discuss his future 
employment." Rommel had not expected to be employed 
again, after what had passed between him and the Fiihrer. 
In any case he could not be fit for an active command for 
some months. Aldinger formed the impression that he was 
uneasy, but for once Rommel did not confide in him. Nor 
did he say anything to his wife, though she had been in 
fear for him ever since die arrest of General Speidel. Man- 
ned had returned that morning to his A.A. battery. 

Five days passed and there was no further word from 
Berlin. On October 11th, Admiral Ruge came to the house 
to dinner and stayed the night. They talked until after mid- 
night. Rommel told Ruge about the order to go to Berlin 
and said that he had refused because he did not feel well 
enough. He added, " I shall not go to Berlin : I would never 
get there alive." " I pooh-poohed this at first," said Admiral 
Ruge," but he went on to say, ' I know they would kill me 
on the way and stage an accident.' I think it was this belief 
that influenced him two days later." ♦ 

On October 13th, came a telephone call from headquar- 



254 



ROMMEL 



ters of War District 5 at Stuttgart. Rommel and Aldingcr 
were out and a soldier servant took the call. He was told to 
inform the Field-Marshal that General Burgdorf would 
arrive at Herri ingen next day at noon. He would be accom- 
panied by General Maisel. General Maisel also belonged to 
the Personnel branch. Since July 20th he had been engaged 
in investigating the cases of officers suspected of complicity 
in the plot against Hitler. When Rommel received the 
message he said very little. To Aldinger he remarked that 
the two generals were doubtless coming to talk to him about 
the invasion or about a new job. For the rest of the day he 
was unusually silent. 

Next morning Manfred arrived on leave by the 6 a.m. 
train. He found his father already up. They breakfasted 
together and then went for a long walk. Rommel told his 
son of the expected visit. " What are they coming for?" 
asked Manfred. " Is it about a new appointment for you?" 
" That's what they say," replied Rommel. Manfred thought 
that his father seemed worried. However, he pulled himself 
together and talked to the boy about his own affairs and his 
future. Rommel wanted him to be a doctor, not a soldier. 
It was 1 1 a.m. when they returned to the house. 

At noon precisely General Burgdorf arrived with General 
Maisel and a Major Khrenberger, another Ordonnanz- 
offizier. They came in a small green car. The driver wore 
the black uniform of the S.S. The two generals shook 
hands with Rommel. Frau Rommel, Manfred and Captain 
Aldinger were introduced. After a moment General Burg- 
dorf said that they wished to speak to the Field-Marshal 
alone. Frau Rommel went upstairs to her room. Rommel 
led Burgdorf into a downstairs room and Maisel followed. 
As they moved away, Rommel turned to Aldinger and told 
him to have the papers ready. He had already warned 
Aldinger to prepare a file of his orders and situation reports 
issued during the Normandy righting, for he suspected that 



"a pitiless destiny" 



255 



he was to be interrogated about the invasion. Aldinger's file 
was, of course, in order and he remained talking to Major 
Ehrenberger outside the front door while Manfred went 
upstairs to continue colouring some maps for his father. It 
was nearly an hour later that General Maisel came out. He 
was followed after a minute or two by General Burgdorf. 
Rommel was not with them. He had gone upstairs to his 
wife. 

"As he entered the room," said Frau Rommel, "there 
was so strange and terrible an expression on his face that I 
exclaimed at once, ' What is the matter with you ? What has 
happened ? Are you ill V He looked at me and replied : 4 1 
have come to say good-bye. In a quarter of an hour I shall 
be dead. . . . They suspect me of having taken part in the 
attempt to kill Hitler. It seems my name was on XJoerdeler's 
list to be President of the Reich. ... I have never seen 
Goerdeler in my life. . . . They say that von Sttilpnagel, 
General Speidel and Golonel von Hofacker have denounced 
me. ... It is -the usual trick. ... I have told them that I 
do not believe it and that it cannot be true. . . . The Fuhrer 
has given me the choice of taking poison or being dragged 
before the People's Court. They have brought the poison. 
They say it will take only three seconds to act.' " Frau 
Rommel begged her husband to go before the Court. He 
ha-, never been a party to the killing of Hitler, nor would 
he ever have agreed to it. " No," said Rommel, " I would 
not be afraid to be tried in Public, for I can defend every- 
thing I have done. But I know that I should never reach 
Berlin alive." 

As he was taking leave of his wife, Manfred entered the 
room cheerfully, to see what had become of his father. The 
generals were waiting for him. Rommel said good-bye to 
his son also. Then he turned and went into the room next 
door. Manfred followed at his heels. Rommel called for 
his soldier servant and sent him to find Aldinger. To Aldin- 



256 



ROMMEL 



ger he explained what was in store for him. He was now 
quite calm but Aldinger could hear Frau Rommel sobbing 
in her room. Aldinger was not disposed to take it like this. 
" I told him," he said, M that he must at least make an 
attempt to escape. Why could we not try to shoot our way 
out together? We had been in as bad places before and got 
away. ' It's no good, my friend,* he said, ' this is it. All the 
streets are blocked with S.S. cars and the Gestapo are ail 
around the house. We could never get back to the troops. 
They've taken over the telephone. I cannot even ring up 
my headquarters.' I said we could at least shoot Burgdorf 
and Maisel. * No/ said Rommel, * they have their orders. 
Besides, I have my wife and Manfred to think of.' Then 
he told me that he had been promised that no harm should 
come to them if he took the first choice. A pension would 
be paid. He was to be given a state funeral. He would be 
buried at home in Herrlingen. All the details of the funeral 
had been worked out and explained to him'. . . . But if he 
were brought before the People's Court and condemned, as 
of course he would be, then it would be quite another 
matter. . . . ' I have spoken to my wife and made up my 
mind,' he said. * I will never allow myself to be hanged by 
that man Hitler. I planned no murder. I only tried to serve 
my country, as I have done all my life, but now this is what 
I must do. In about half an hour there will come a tele- 
phone call from Ulm to say that I have had an accident and 
am dead.' When he had made up his mind, it was of no use 
to argue with him. . . 

Some of the few surviving conspirators feel that Rommel 
should have insisted on being taken before the People's 
Court and should there have struck a last blow for Germany 
by denouncing Hitler. His appearance in the dock, they 
say, would have shaken confidence in the regime. Had Rom- 
mel been more of a fanatic ; had he been prepared to sacri- 
fice his wife and child ; had he been in better health ; had he 
been sure of reaching Berlin; had he been willing to be 



"a pitiless destiny" 



257 



branded as a felon and to die on a hook, perhaps without 
a chance of speaking, he might have chosen difTerently. His 
proper course is endlessly debatable : the choice, heroic or 
not, had to be made within an hour. 

Having taken his decision, Rommel went downstairs with 
Manfred and Aldinger. The generals were looking at the 
garden. They came over to the car and Rommel got in first 
into the back seat. Burgdorf and Maisel followed him. 
Major Ehrenberger had already left to make the arrange- 
ments. The car drove off. 

Twenty-five minutes later the telephone rang. Aldinger 
answered it. It was Major Ehrenberger, speaking from Ulm. 
"Aldinger," he said, "a terrible thing has happened. The 
Field-Marshal has had a haemorrhage, a brain-storm, in the 
car. He is dead." Aldinger did not reply. "Did you hear 
what I said?" asked Ehrenberger. " Yes," said Aldinger, " I 
heard." " Then please tell Frau Rommel that I am coining 
back to the house at once." Aldinger walked slowly up- 
stairs to Rommel's widow. He had no need to speak. Half 
an hour afterwards a car was heard on the drive. Aldinger 
went to the door. Ehrenberger said that lie wished to see 
Frau Rommel. Aldinger answered that she was unable to 
receive him. Ehrenberger did not insist. Together he and 
,*»ldinger drove, in silence, to the hospital at Ulm. Aldinger 
was taken to a small room where Rommel's body was lying. 
" I would have liked to be alone with him," said Aldinger, 
" but Ehrenberger would not leave me." 

Tears ran down his cheeks as he told me the story. For 
thirty years Rommel had been his friend as well as his hero. 
It needed an effort to remember that this precise little man, 
who might have spent his life in some Government office, 
had been through so many battles in two great wars. Back 
from the table his plump, pretty young wife wept quietly 
over her sewing. In this house Rommel would not be for* 
gotten. 

r. I 



258 ROMMEL 

While Aldinger was away, Colonel Kuzmany, commander 
of the troops in Ulm, came to the house at Herrlingen. Frau 
Rommel saw him. He was deeply moved, though he did not 
suspect the truth. Immediately after Rommel had been 
taken to the hospital, he said, Generals Burgdorf and Maisel 
had come to his headquarters to announce the sudden death 
of the Field-Marshal. Then they ordered him to make pre- 
parations for a state funeral. 

Later in the afternoon, Aldinger drove Frau Rommel and 
Manfred to the hospital. The chief medical officer told them 
that the two generals had brought in Rommel, dead, at 
1.25 p.m. On their orders he had given him an injection to 
stimulate the heart. " There was no reaction,'* said the doc- 
tor, in a flat voice. Aldinger felt that he was on the point of 
saying something more but did not dare. He did add, how- 
ever, that there was to be no post-mortem — on orders from 
above. Then he led them to the room. " When I saw my 
husband," said Frau Rommel, " I noticed at once an ex- 
pression of deep contempt on his face. It was an expression 
we had never seen on it in life." It may still be seen on his 
death-mask. 

Next evening, the 15th, they went to the station to meet 
Rommel's sister, whom they had summoned from Stuttgart. 
Aldinger had been ordered to report to Military Head- 
quarters in Ulm and they took him there on the way. 
" While we were waiting outside," said Frau Rommel, 
" General Maisel suddenly appeared. He came over to the 
car and began to offer me his sympathy. I turned away 
from him without speaking and pretended not to see his out- 
stretched hand." Aldinger said that Maisel had asked him 
where Frau Rommel was and "how she was taking it." 
" In the car outside," said Aldinger, " and how do you sup- 
pose?" When Rommel's sister saw her brother's body she, 
too, remarked at once on that look of contempt which the 
others had noticed the evening before. They had not yet 
told her how he died. 



'A PITILESS DESTINY' 



259 



Rommel's body was taken back to the house, where it lay 
beneath a swastika flag, the face uncovered, in the room in 
which the interview with the generals had taken place. 
Under orders from Ulm, two officers mounted guard over it 
with drawn swords. 

Generals Burgdorf and Maisel went off to Berlin. After 
they had left, Aldinger discovered that Rommel's cap and 
Field-Marshal's baton were missing. Characteristically, he 
telephoned to General Burgdorf and demanded that they be 
returned, together with any papers taken from the body. 
The cap and baton were recovered. RommeFs message of 
July 15th, a copy of which Aldinger knew had been in his 
breast pocket, was not returned. Burgdorf was killed in the 
last days' fighting in Berlin. Maisel is still alive in the 
American zone. To a German denazification court before 
which he appeared in Frankfurt two years ago Maisel said 
that the car had been stopped a few hundred yards away 
from the house on the Blauberen road. He and the driver 
were ordered by General Burgdorf to get out as he wished 
to be alone with Rommel. " Approximately five minutes 
later we noticed that General Burgdorf had left the car and 
was walking up and down in the road alongside it. After 
another five minutes he waved to us. When we approached 
we saw the Field-Marshal leaning lifelessly against the back 
seat." The S.S. driver, Dose, said that Rommel was doubled 
up and sobbing but practically unconscious and obviously in 
his death throes. The S.S. were good judges of such matters. 
Dose sat him up and put on his cap, which had fallen on 
the floor. Maisel also told the Court that he had not wanted 
to believe that Rommel, a special favourite of Hitler, had 
had anything to do with the attempt on his life. But when 
General Burgdorf read his statement from two typewritten 
sheets, Rommel's demeanour was such that " I got the im- 
pression that the accusing statements were absolutely cor- 
rect." His story was riot challenged. Frau Rommel had 
been invited to give evidence but refused, not wishing to see 



260 



ROMMEL 



General Maisel again, even in the dock. The case was ad- 
journed for further evidence. In the summer of 1949 
General Maisel was pronounced an offender in Category II 
of the denazification law. The conviction carried with it a 
sentence of two years' imprisonment. Since Maisel had 
already been in custody for more than two years while his 
case was being investigated, this sentence will not be served. 
Burgdorf was described to me as " a drunken, foul-mouthed 
butcher who should never have been a general." Of Maisel, 
a general of his acquaintance said : "If there was any dirty, 
underhand work going on, you could be sure that Maisel 
was somewhere at the bottom of it." 

" I would like to get my hands on General Maisel," said 
General Johann Cramer of the Afrika Korps. 

With the public announcement of Rommel's death began 
the flood of telegrams and letters of condolence. Hitler sent 
a not very effusive telegram on October 17th : 

" Please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your 
husband," it read. "The name of Marshal Rommel will 
always be linked with the heroic fighting in North Africa." 
It will be observed that neither Normandy nor wounds were 
mentioned. 

* 

Dr. Goebbels and his wife also expressed their deepest 
sympathy. Joachim von Ribbentrop said that he had been 
very much moved to hear that Rommel had died " as the 
result of his serious wounds in France." He assured Frau 
Rommel that " his successes belong to the history of this 
great period." Kesselring wrote later that " there were times 
when I did not always agree with him, just as he did not 
always understand me. . . . (But) I was very glad when he 
was appointed to an important command in the West be- 
cause I knew that his experience of fighting against the 
British and Americans would be of the greatest value. . . . 
His energy, his inspiring personality and His intuition would 
have prevented many things that might have been pre- 



"a pitiless destiny" 



261 



vented/' General Gambara, one of the best of the Italian 
generals, wrote that " he will always live in the hearts and 
minds of those who had the honour to sec him, as I did, 
always calm and fearless under fire." Field-Marshal Model, 
von Kluge's successor as Commander-in-Chief, West, pub- 
lished an Order of the Day in which he referred to him as 
" one of the greatest of German commanders . . . with a 
lightning power of decision, a soldier of the greatest bravery 
and of unequalled dash. . . . Always in the front line, he 
inspired his men to new deeds of heroism by his 
example. . . ." 

There were one or two omissions. Neither then nor later 
was there any message from Keitel or Jodl. Heinrich Borg- 
mann, Hitler's adjutant, omitted to add the conventional 
" Heil Hitler " to his letter. A few days later he resigned 
his appointment. 

Himmlcr's condolences came in unusual form. The con- 
tent was also unusual. Three days after Rommel's death he 
sent his personal assistant, Berndt, mentioned earlier in this 
book as joining the Afrika Korps from the Propaganda 
Ministry, to deliver a personal message to Frau Rommel. 
The message was, that he, Himmler, knew the whole story, 
that he was horrified and that he would never have had a 
hand in such a thing. Berndt was now serving with the S.S. 
He had gone back to the Propaganda Ministry and been 
thrown out by Goebbels for repeating Rommel's remark that 
the war was lost. To Himmler's message he added a gloss 
of his own. Hitler, he declared, was equally innocent. It 
was the work of Keitel and Jodl. Later he wrote a strange, 
ecstatic letter from the front before he, too, was killed. 
There had, he said, been some " higher purpose " in Rom- 
mel's death but Hitler was not guilty of it. That is doubtless 
what he believed, for he was one of those who never lost 
faith in their Fuhrer. But Himmler, if, indeed, he had no 
hand in it, at least knew that Keitel and Jodl would never 



262 



ROMMEL 



have dared to make away with Rommel without their mas- 
ter's orders. Nor were there many important killings about 
which he himself was not consulted. The responsibility for 
the arrangements may never be exactly fixed. Even in sys- 
tematic Nazi Germany, orders for murder at the Field- 
Marshal level would hardly be put on paper. Rommel's 
family and friends have no doubt who spoke the operative 
word. 

The funeral took place on October 18th. It was an ela- 
borate affair. Like the gangsters of Chicago, the Nazis had 
a mortuary sense. They, too, did not stint the trappings of 
death and were greater masters of ceremonial. Hitler had 
ordered national mourning and Rommel was buried with 
full military honours. All the troops in the neighbourhood 
were turned out. The coffin was carried from the house, 
covered with a huge swastika flag, while a guard in steel 
helmets and white gloves presented arms. Thence it was 
taken to the town hall of Ulm. Here, in a great vaulted 
chamber used for entertainments and civic functions, Rom- 
mel lay in state. The outside of the building had been hung 
with banners : the pillars inside were crowned with eagles, 
flags and laurels. On the bier were placed his marshal's 
baton, his helmet and his sword. The jewels of his decora- 
tions, earned in two wars, glittered on a velvet cushion. Four 
officers wearing the brassard of the Afrika Korps, mounted 
guard. They were relieved, as the time for the ceremony 
approached, by four generals of the Reichswehr. In the 
square outside were paraded two companies of infantry, 
with a company of the Air Force and, a delicate touch, one 
of the Waffen S.S. There was a military band. Thousands 
of people thronged the square, amongst them many boys 
and girls, to whom Rommel was always a hero. They 
watched the arrival of high officers of all the services, of 
representatives of the Party, of the Reich and of Germany's 
allies. Last came Field-Marsha! von Rundstedt, the senior 
serving officer of the German Army. As he entered the hall 



A PITILESS DESTINY' 



263 



with RommePs family, the band played the funeral march 
I from the G otter dammcrung. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt 
! then delivered an oration in the name of the Fiihrer who 
I ' as head of the Army, has called us here to say farewell 
j to his Field-Marshal, fallen on the field of honour." 

Von Rundstedt, greatly aged, it was observed, described 
how Rommel had received his wounds by enemy action in 
Normandy. "A pitiless destiny," he continued, "has 
snatched him from us, just at the moment when the fighting 
has come to its crisis." He then recited Rommel's services in 
the two world wars, dwelling at length upon his campaigns 
in Africa and upon the esteem in which he was held even by 
the enemy. Normandy was passed over more lightly, with 
the comment that he had " worked indefatigably to prepare 
against the invasion " and, when the battle began, had 
joined in it without any thought of his own safety. 

The peaks of oratory and of irony were scaled by the 
Field-Marshal, or the anonymous author of his speech, when 
he declared that " this tireless fighter in the cause of the 
Fiihrer and the Reich " had been " imbued with the 
National-Socialist spirit" and that it was this which had 
given him his force and had been the mainspring of all his 
actions. He ended the passage with the immortal words : 
"His heart belonged to the Fiihrer." 

" In the name of Adolf Hitler " he then placed a magni- 
ficent wreath at Rommel's feet, while the band played " Ich 
hatt* einen Kameraden" perhaps the most moving of all 
tributes from one soldier to another. Hitler was ever a sen- 
timentalist. 

From the town hall the coffin was taken on a gun- 
carriage, dragged by one of those huge infantry half-tracks, 
to the crematorium. In this case no evidence was to be left 
which an exhumation might reveal. In the seats of the half- 
track, young soldiers sat bolt upright, their hands folded. 
The guard presented arms again, the band played, the 
generals and the Party leaders stood stiffly to attention, there 



264 



ROMMEL 



were more speeches, Rommel's decorations were carried l>e- 
fore him on their velvet cushion, the Fiihrer's wreath was to 
the fore. 

Admiral Ruge, brought down by special train from Ber- 
lin, represented the Gennan Navy. He did not know the 
truth but he suspected something from von Rundstedt's 
manner in the town hall and from the fact that the Field- 
Marshal did not come to the crematorium. Amongst the 
mourners were also Frau Speidel, Strolin and von Neurath. 
It needed courage on their part to attend that ceremony. 
Frau Speidel could hardly expect to see her husband alive 
again for the doors of the prison in the Albrechtstrasse sel- 
dom opened outwards. She and her children were in deadly 
danger. Strolin had guessed the truth as soon as Frau Rom- 
mel had telephoned to him on the evening of the 14th that 
her husband was dead. Each morning since he had waited 
at dawn for that heavy knocking that had aroused the 
SpeidcLs. Was it not he who had set RommeFs feet on this 
path ? Von Neurath, too, was deeply involved. The Gestapo 
were certain to be present. There they were, indeed, a little 
withdrawn, suave young men in civilian clothes, watching 
from behind the wall. It is no wonder that Frau Speidel 
seemed afraid to reply to Strolin's greeting. 

Arrests at this moment would, however, have been out of 
place. The producer had decided that this last act must be 
played on a note of dignity and sorrow. " Deep respect for 
the dead Field-Marshal " was the stage direction. 

Next day Rommel's ashes were brought home to Herr- 
lingen. Lying in a narrow valley with wooded hills rising 
steeply on either si^e, Herrlingen is a pretty village of white 
houses with red-tiled roofs and window-boxes. A clear, fast- 
running stream flows through it. It looks at its best in the 
spring, when the gardens are full of blossom, or, as then, in 
the autumn, when the leaves have turned to golden-brown. 
The white church, too, has charm, with its steep, barn-like 
roof of weathered slate and its square tower, surmounted by 



'A PITTLESS DESTINY 



265 



a faded green cupola. Restored by the first King of Wurttem- 
berg in 1816, it contains monuments dating back to the 
fourteenth century. Cottages cluster round it. The church- 
yard, shared by Catholics and Protestants alike, though the 
church is Catholic, slopes in terraces to the road, beyond 
which runs the river. In the spring the graves are a mass 
of pansies and wallflowers. In front of the tombstones of 
their parents are small wooden crosses, miniature replicas 
of those one sees in military cemeteries, commemorating the 
young men of Herrlingen who fell in Africa, at Cassino, at 
Riga, at Bjelgorod or, more often, simply " in dem Osten." 
The churchyard is enclosed by a white wall, against which 
have been planted flowering shrubs. Here, in an angle of the 
wall, was the plot reserved for Rommel. From it only the 
cluirch behind, the tops of the trees beyond the road and, to 
the left, the grassy slopes of a bare hill, as steep as Monte 
Matajur, are visible. It is a peaceful spot. Here, in the 
presence of his friends and family, all that could die of 
Rommel was lowered into the grave. 

Though it is not an easy thing to question a woman about 
her feelings as she stood by the graveside of her murdered 
husband, I came to know Frau Rommel well enough to ask 
her whether she had not been tempted to make a scene and 
publicly to denounce his murderers. " It was hard not to," 
she said. " In the town hall, when Field-Marshal von Rund- 
stedt was speaking, I longed to call out that they were all 
acting a lie. But what would have been the use? They 
would have hushed it up somehow or else my husband would 
have been publicly disgraced. In any case he was dead. . . . 
And I had to think of Manfred. I did not care any more for 
myself but you must know what they did even to distant 
cousins of those who were executed after July 20th . . . 
Manfred would have been killed. They counted on all that : 
they were very clever. No, it was my husband's decision and 
I could not change it after he was gone," 

Thus all passed off according to plan. Only a hyper- 



266 



ROMMEL 



critical observer would have asked why Marshal von Rund- 
stedt stumbled in reading his speech, as though it had been 
given to him only a few minutes before. Why did he make 
no attempt to speak to Frau Rommel? Why, on passing 
Strolin and von Neurath, did he raise his eyes and give them 
so queer a look ? " He knew or guessed,'* said Strolin, " and 
hated the part they had made him play." He must also have 
disliked his lines. For von Rundstedt was a soldier and a 
gentleman, with a long-standing contempt for Hitler and the 
Party. There was a soldier of another sort who also had his 
doubts. " What was the matter with that funeral ?" asked 
an S,S. officer of Strolin's acquaintance. " Somehow I had 
a feeling that there was something not quite right about it." 

Such doubts were not general. Outside the inner circles 
of the Party and of the High Command the great mass of 
Germans believed that Rommel had died of his wounds and 
mourned him sincerely, even in the midst of their own 
troubles. I asked Captain Hartmann from Heidcnheim 
whether he had had any suspicion. "None, at first," he 
said. " Then, a few days after the funeral, I was out for a 
walk with a friend. Suddenly he turned to me and asked if 
I knew anything, as it all seemed rather queer. I began to 
think. I had seen Rommel after his death, and he looked 
perfectly peaceful. There were no signs of violence, no trace 
of gunshot wounds or anything of that sort. But I had also 
spent a whole day with him at Herrlingen three weeks be- 
fore. He had then almost completely recovered from his 
wounds and was mentally absolutely fit. We talked about 
the first war and he could remember every name and date. 
He did not seem to expect to be employed again, because 
Goering and the OKH were against him. He was also con* 
vinced that the war was lost. But he never said anything to 
suggest that he had any fears for his own safety." Hartmann 
continued to wonder whether, perhaps, there was not indeed 
something rather queer. But it was not until April, 1945, 
when Frau Rommel told him, that he knew the facts. 



"a pitiless destiny" 



267 



Meanwhile life was resumed in the lonely house on the 
hill with such courage as might be. There was one change 
in the establishment. Frau Rommel had been given an old 
soldier servant to help with the housework. He was almost 
completely crippled, for most of one foot had been shot 
away. He had also been severely wounded in the chest by a 
shell splinter. Amongst his light duties he often answered 
the telephone. He did so on October 13th, when the message 
came that Generals Burgdorf and Maisel were arriving. 
Shortly after the funeral, Frau Rommel was ordered to send 
him back to duty. In spite of her protest that he could hardly 
hobble, he was sent off and into the line near Prague. By 
telephoning to an influential friend at Army Headquarters 
she managed to get him back again. He had only been in 
Herrlingen a short time when lie was again ordered to report 
for duty with his regiment. Soon afterwards he was reported 
killed. It may all have been due to the man-power shortage 
or to the fact that Frau Rommel, now only the widow of a 
Field-Marshal, was no longer entitled to a soldier-servant. 
She still feels, however, that higher authority was strangely 
interested in the fate of a crippled private soldier. 

Otherwise she was unmolested. The two S.S. men whom 
.she discovered one night in her garden may have been there 
with no sinister intent. At any rate they went away when 
she challenged them and demanded to know what they were 
doing. " I was not nervous," she said, " though I quite 
expected that they would come for me. particularly towards 
the end when they were killing off so many people who 
knew too much. I was always nervous for Manfred. It 
would have been so easy to report him killed in action." 

Manfred put his hand on her shouHer. " I was nervous 
for you and for myself as well," he said. " I also knew too 
much, and they might have thought that because I was 
young I was likely to talk. The CO. of the battalion to 
which I had been transferred from my flak battery was a 
keen Nazi and I used to think he had his eye on me. That 



268 



ROMMEL 



may have been my imagination. Anyway, I made up my 
mind in April to get myself taken prisoner as soon as the 
Americans were in Ulm and I knew that my mother was 
safe." 

He was lucky not to be killed in the process. While making 
his way towards the French at Riedlingen on the Danube he 
ran into an S.S. patrol. The S.S. were then engaged on 
almost their last assignment. It was their duty and, no doubt, 
their pleasure to apprehend any German soldiers whom they 
found out of the line with no valid excuse and summarily 
to hang them from the nearest tree. The uniformed corpses 
dangling from the trees in the Black Forest and elsewhere 
must have puzzled our troops. They were, in fact, amongst 
the last emblems of the Nazi regime. Manfred was stopped 
and questioned. He had, however, prepared his story. He 
had almost fallen into the hands of the French a few minutes 
before but had escaped. He was now hastening to find his 
company commander. The French were in that village over 
there. The S.S. let him pass. Soon afterwards Manfred was 
indeed a prisoner. He was well treated. When General de 
Tassigny learnt that he was his father's son he gave him a 
job as orderly-interpreter and took pains to get news of his 
mother. 

Aldinger, who knew as much as any one, was, strangely 
enough, not interfered with, though he* too, spent some 
anxious hours before the surrender. Strolin also escaped 
arrest. In his case the explanation seems to be that the Ges- 
tapo intelligence work was inefficient and that the trail 
never led directly to him. He was also so greatly respected by 
the people of Stuttgart and so well known abroad that it 
may have seemed wiser to leave him alone. Perhaps also 
his friend the ex-Commissioner of Police may have had 
something to do with it. To Strolin himself it remains a 
mystery. 

General SpeidePs escape was as nearly - miraculous as any- 
thing can be which is the result of keen intelligence and iron 



"a pitiless destiny" 



269 



self-control. It shows how well-armed is the philosopher 
against a brutish and irrational world. When the Gestapo 
questioned him in their prison on the Albrechtstrasse they 
were convinced that he was guilty. He must certainly have 
been on Dr. Goerdeler's list. Moreover, Goerdeler gave way 
under torture and it is known that he mentioned many 
names. Why, then, was General Speidel not hanged out of 
hand ? " I think it was/* he told me, " because I remained 
perfectly calm and argued everything out with them on a 
completely logical and unemotional basis. I made them feel 
I was concerned, not with my own fate but with the facts. 
It was a bad moment when they confronted me with Colonel 
von Hofacker of General von Stiilpnagel's staff, for I had 
heard that he had been drugged or tortured into talking. 
But I managed to catch his eye for a second and he pulled 
himself together and said that they could not have taken 
down his evidence correctly." 

General Speidel survived two major " interrogations " in 
the Albrechtstrasse and many minor questionings. He was 
never for a second caught off his guard. He cannot possibly 
have persuaded the Gestapo that he was innocent but he was 
so greatly their intellectual superior that he inspired a doubt. 
He even made them feel slightly silly. He thus saved his 
life — for the moment. What is more, he very nearly suc- 
ceeded in convincing them that, in his own words, " It was 
absolutely impossible that Rommel should have had any- 
thing to do with the events of July 20th, 1944." It was an 
exercise in dialectics, conducted without passion and 
apparently without anxiety. He could not save Rommel be- 
cause Hitler's own passion and resentment were aroused. 
He wanted to kill Rommel, it would seem, not so much for 
being a traitor as for being right when he and Keitel and 
Jodl were wrong, over Africa and again over Normandy. 
For that he had come to hate him and hatred in his case had 
only one form of expression. Speidel had not attracted his 
hatred. It is possible that Hitler may also have felt that the 



270 



ROMMEL 



execution of Rommel's Chief of Staff would arouse suspi- 
cions about the elaborate farce which he had staged to cover 
the removal of Rommel himself. 

For seven months, then, General Speidel, or Dr. Speidel 
the philosopher, defeated the ends of Nazi justice. He was 
not, of course, set free. The Gestapo did not surrender their 
victims so easily and may still have hoped that the incon- 
trovertible evidence would turn up. In the last weeks of the 
war Speidel was still in custody with other suspects at Urna, 
near Lake Constance. There was a special guard under an 
S.S. officer and Speidel had little doubt that his orders were 
to see that they did not fall into the hands of the Allies alive. 
The military side of his brain now came into action. With 
the connivance of the commandant of the prison, who was 
friendly, he forged a telegram purporting to come from 
Himmlcr himself. It instructed the S.S. officer to be ready 
to move the prisoners to a safer place. He was to telephone 
to Himmler's headquarters for further instructions. The 
telephone in the prison was out of order. The S.S. officer 
had, therefore, to go elsewhere to telephone. While he was 
away, the commandant of the prison permitted the 
prisoners, General Speidel and more than twenty others, to 
escape. They took refuge with a Roman Catholic priest, 
who concealed them. Before they could be found, the Allied 
troops had overrun the area. 

This is almost the end of the Rommel story. I must, how- 
ever, go back a few weeks to what still seems to me the 
strangest chapter in it. Early in March, 1945, when his 
world was visibly falling about Hitler's ears, Frau Rommel 
received a letter dated March 7. It was from Der General" 
baurat fiir die Gcstaltung der Deutschen Krie gerfriedhofe 
or, as we should say, the War Graves Commission. 

" The Fiihrer has given me an order," it ran, " to erect 
a monument to the late Field-Marshal Rommel, and I have 
asked a number of sculptors to submit designs. I enclose 
some of them. At this moment it would not be possible to 



"a pitiless destiny" 271 

erect this monument or to transport it. One can only make 
a model. ... I think that the Field-Marshal should be 
represented by a lion. One artist has depicted a dying lion, 
another a lion weeping, the third a lion about to spring. . . . 
I prefer the last myself but if you prefer a dying lion, that, 
too, could be arranged. 

"The slab can be made immediately, as I have special 
permission from Reichminister Speer. Generally monuments 
cannot now be made in stone. But in this special case it can 
be made and quickly shipped. . . ." 

To this letter Frau Rommel sent no reply. 



APPENDIX 



ROMMEL'S RECORD OF SERVICE 

W EH RP ASS 

19- 7-10 — 3- 10-15 Inf* R e K« I2 4 

1- 3-14 — 31- 7-14 Z. Fcld Art. Reg. 19 

4-1 0-15 — 10- 1- 18 Wurttemberg Geb. Batt. 

11- 1-18 — 20 12-18 Gen. Kdo. 64 

29- 7-18 — 19- 8-18 Z. 4/Landw. Fulda Reg. 6 d, Bayr. L. 

Division 

20- 8-18 — 8-9-18 Z. 1 Landst. Fussart. Batt. XX A.K. 

21- 12-18 — 24- 6-19 Inf. Reg. 124 

25- 1-19 — 31-12-20 R.W. Sch. Reg. 25 (Schwab. Gemund) 

1- 1-21-30- 9-29 Inf. Reg. 13 (Stuttgart) 

1-10-29 —30- 9-33 Inf. Schule Dresden 

1-10-33 — 14- I_ 35 ////Inf. Reg. 17 (Jaegar Goslar) 

, 5- ! "35 —21- 1-35 R.W. Ministerium 

25- 1-35— H-io-35 ////Batt. J.R.Go. 

1 5- 1 0-35 — 9- u -38 Kriegsschule Potsdam 

10-11-38 Kommandeur der Kriegsschule W. Neu- 

stadt 

23- 8-39 — 14- 2-40 Fuehrerhauptq. Unterstab. 

15- 2-40 — 14- 2-41 Stab. 7 Panzer Div. 

15- 2-41 — 14- 8-41 Befchlshaber der Deutschen Truppen in 

Libyen 

15- 8-41 — 21- 4-42 Kommando der Panzergruppe Afrika 

22- 1-42 — 24-10-42 Oberkommando d. Pz. Armee Afrika 
25-10-42 — 22- 2-43 Oberkommando d. Deutsch. Ital. Panzer- 

armee 

23- 2-43 — 13- 5-43 Oberkommando d. Heeresgruppe Afrika 

14- 5-43 — 14- 7-43 Arbcitsstab Gen. Fcldmarschall Rommel 

15- 7-43 — 3- 9-44 Oberkommando d. Heeresgruppe B. 
4- 9-44 — 14-10-44 Fuehrer Res OKH (V) 

272 



APPENDIX TWO 



THE ROMMEL PAPERS 



hen this book was already printed and about to be bound, 



VY I heard from Manfred Rommel that he had succeeded in 
recovering some of his father's papers which, because of their 
outspoken criticisms of Hitler and the German High ^Command, 
had been hidden before Field- Marshal Rommel's death lest they 
should fall into the hands of the Gestapo* I flew to Germany 
next day and at Herrlingcn was able to examine part of a mass 
of diaries, narratives of battles and military appreciations, written 
or dictated at odd moments of leisure during the war, when 
Rommel was in hospital at Semmering in the summer of 1942 
and in the interval between his relinquishing command in Tunis 
and taking over Army Group B. The extracts, which, thanks to 
the courtesy of the Rommel family and the eleventh-hour efforts 
of my publishers, I have been able to include here represent 
only a very small portion of what I have seen and a still smaller 
portion of the whole. Apart from their intrinsic interest, they 
serve to show that Rommel had a gift of direct, clear and forceful 
expression well in keeping with his character as a commander in 
«*>ar. The papers are obviously of great importance to all students 
of the North African campaign and it is hoped that an English 
translation of them may before long be published. I shall be 
happy if my own book, with these additional pages, helps to call 
attention to it. 




D. Y. 



«73 



THE RULES OF DESERT WARFARE 

A paper prepared by Rommel as an introduction to his 

account of the war in Africa 

Of all the theatres of operations, North Africa was probably the 
one where the war took on its most modern shape. Here were 
opposed fully motorised formations for whose employment the flat 
desert, free of obstructions, offered hitherto unforeseen possibilities. 
Here only could the principles of motorised and tank warfare, as 
they had been taught before 1939, be fully applied and, what was 
more important, further developed. Here only did the pure tank 
battle between large armoured formations actually occur. Even 
though the struggle may have occasionally hardened into static 
warfare, in its more important stages, in 1941-42 during the 
Cunningham-Ritchie offensive and in the summer of 1942 up to 
the capture of Tobruk, it remained based on the principle of 
complete mobility. 

Militarily, this was entirely new ground, for our offensive in 
Poland and the West had been against opponents who, in their 
operations, had constantly to consider their non-motoriscd infantry 
divisions and whose freedom of decision was thus disastrously 
limited, particularly in retreat. They were, indeed, often obliged 
by this preoccupation to adopt measures which were quite un- 
suitable for holding up our advance. After our break-through in 
France, the enemy infantry divisions were overrun and outflanked 
by our motorised forces. When this happened, the enemy 
operational reserves had to allow themselves to be ground to pieces 
by our attacking forces, often in tactically unfavourable positions, 
in an endeavour to gain time for the retreat of the infantry. 

Against a motorised and armoured enemy, non-mot orised 
infantry divisions are of value only in prepared positions. Once 
such positions have been pierced or outflanked and they are forced 
to retreat from them they become helpless victims of the motorised 
enemy. In extreme cases they can do no more than hold on in 



274 



THE RULES OF DESERT WARFARE 275 

: their positions to the last round. In retreat they cause tremendous 
embarrassment since, as mentioned above, motorised formations 
have to be employed to gain time [to extricate them]. I myself 
had to submit to this experience during the retreat of the Axis 
forces from Cyrcnaica in the winter of 1941-42 because the whole 
of the Italian and a large part of the German infantry, including 
the majority of what was to become the 90th Light Division, had 
no vehicles. Part of them had to be carried by a shuttle service 
of supply columns, part had to march. It was only thanks to the 
prowess of my armoured formations that the retreat of the Italo- 
German infantry could be covered, for the fully motorised British 
were in hot pursuit. Similarly, Graziani's failure can be attributed 
mainly to the fact that the Italian army, (he greater part of it not 
motorised, was helpless in the open desert against the weak but 
nevertheless fully motorised British forces, while the Italian armour, 
though too weak to oppose the British with any hope of success, 
was compelled to accept battle and allow itself to be destroyed 
in defence of the infantry. 

Out of the purely motorised form of warfare which developed in 
Libya and Egypt there arose certain laws, fundamentally different 
from those [applicable] in other theatres. They will be the 
standard for the future, which will belong to full motorised 
formations. 

In the flat desert country, so well suited to motor transport, 
the encirclement of a fully motorised enemy produces the 
following results: 

(a) The enemy is placed in the worst tactical situation 
imaginable, since fire can be brought to bear on him from 
all sides. Even when he is enveloped only on three sides his 
position is tactically untenable. 

(b) When the envelopment is completed, he is tactically 
compelled to evacuate the area which he occupies. 

The encirclement of the enemy and his subsequent destruction 
in the pocket, can, however, seldom be the primary aim of an 
operation but is usually only an indirect object, (or a fully 
motorised force whose organisational structure is intact will 
normally and in suitable country be able to break out at any time 
through an improved defensive ring. Thanks to motorisation, the 
commander of the encircled force will be in a position to con- 



876 ROMMEL 

centrate his main effort unexpectedly against a favourable point 
and force his way through. Time and again this was demonstrated 
in the desert. 

It follows, then, that encircled enemy forces can. only be 
destroyed : 

(a) When they are not motorised or have been rendered 
immobile by lack of petrol or when they include non-mobile 
elements which have to be considered. 

(b) When they arc badly led or are deliberately , sacrificed 
to save other formations. 

(c) When their fighting strength is already broken and 
signs of disintegration are evident. 

With the exception of cases {a) and (b), which occurred very 
frequently in other theatres of war, the encirclement of the enemy 
and his subsequent destruction in the pocket can be attempted 
only if he has first been so heavily engaged in open battle that the 
organic cohesion of the forces lias been lost. Battles which aim at 
the destruction of the enemy power of resistance should be con- 
ceived as battles of attrition. In motorised warfare, material 
attrition and the disruption of the organic cohesion of the 
opposing army must be the direct aim of the planning. 

Tactically, the battle of attrition is fought with the highest 
possible measure of mobility. The following points require 
particular attention: 

(a) One should endeavour to concentrate one's own forces 
both in space and time, while at the same time seeking to split 
the opposing forces and to destroy diem at different times. 

(b) Supply lines are particularly vulnerable as all petrol and 
ammunition, essential requirements for the battle, must pass 
along them. Hence, one should protect one's own by all 
possible means and seek to confuse, or better still, to cut the 
enemy's. Operations in the opposing supply area will cause 
the enemy immediately to break off the battle, elsewhere 
since, as already shown, supplies are the basis of the battle 
and thus must be given priority of protection. 

(c) The tank force is the backbone of the motorised army. 
Everything turns on the tanks, the other formations are mere 
ancillaries. War of attrition against the enemy tank units 
must, therefore, be carried on as far as possible by one's own 



THE RULES OF DESERT WARFARE 377 

tank destruction units. One's own tank forces must deal the 
last blow. 

(d) Results of reconnaissance must reach the commander 
in the shortest possible time and he must then take immediate 
decisions and put them into effect as quickly as possible. 
Speed of reaction in Command decisions decides the batde. 
It is, therefore, essentia) that commanders of motorised forces 
should be as near as possible to their troops and in the closest 
signal communication with them. 

(«) Speed of one's own movement and organisational 
cohesion of the force are decisive factors and require particular 
attention. Any sign of confusion must be dealt with as quickly 
as possible by reorganisation. 

(/) Concealment of one's own intentions is of the greatest 
importance, in order to provide conditions of surprise for 
one's own operations and thus enable one to exploit the time 
required by the enemy command to react. Deception 
measures of all kinds should be encouraged, not least to make 
the enemy commander uncertain and compel him to move 
with hesitation and caution. 

(g) Not until the enemy has been thoroughly beaten should 
one attempt to exploit success by overrunning and destroying 
large parts of his disorganised forces. Here again speed is 
everything. The enemy must never be allowed time to 
reorganise. The fastest possible regrouping for the pursuit, 
the fastest possible organisation of supply is essential for the 
attacking forces. 
In the technical and organisational fields the following points 
must be given particular consideration in desert warfare: 

(a) From the tank one must demand, above all, manoeuvr- 
ability, speed and a long-range gun, for the side which has 
the more powerful gun has the longer arm and can the earlier 
engage the enemy. Weight of armour cannot make up for 
lack of gun-power, since it can only be provided at the 
expense of manoeuvrability and speed, both of which are 
indispensable tactical requirements. 

(&) The artillery, too, must have great range and, above 
all, be mobile in the highest degree, including its ammunition 
in large quantities. 



ROMMEL 



(c) The infantry serves only to occupy and hold positions 
designed to prevent the enemy from particular operations or 
to force him into them. Once this object is attained it must 
be possible to move the infantry quickly and employ them 
elsewhere. They must, therefore, be mobile and be provided 
with equipment which enables them to take up defensive 
positions as quickly as possible at tactically important points 
of the battlefield. 
It is my experience that bold decisions give the best promise of 
success. One must differentiate between operational and tactical 
boldness and a military gamble. A bold operation is one which 
has no more than a chance of success but which, in case of failure, 
leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to be able to cope with 
any situation. A gamble, on the other hand, is* an operation which 
can lead cither to victory or to the destruction of one's own forces. 
Situations can arise where even a gamble may be justified, as when, 
in the normal course of events, defeat would be merely a question 
of time, when the gaining of time is pointless and the only chance 
lies in an operation of great risk. The only time that a commander 
can calculate the course of a battle in advance is when his forces 
are so superior to the enemy's that his victory is self-evident from 
the start. Then the problem is no longer one of " what with " but 
only of " how." But even in such situations 1 think it is better 
to operate on the grand scale rather than to creep about the 
battlefield anxiously taking all conceivable security measures 
against possible and impossible enemy operations. 

Normally there is no ideal solution but each possible course has 
its advantages and disadvantages. One must select that which 
teems the best from the widest point of view and then pursue it 
and accept the consequences. Any compromise is bad. 

One of the first lessons which I drew from my experience of 
motorised warfare was that speed of operation and quick reaction 
of the Command were the decisive factors. The troops must be 
able to operate at the highest speed and in complete co-ordination. 
One must not be satisfied here with any normal average but must 
always endeavour to obtain the maximum .performance, for the 
side which makes the greater effort is the faster and the faster side 



THE RULES OF DESERT WARFARE 279 

wins the battle. Officers and N.C.O.s must, therefore, constant!/ 
train their troops with this in view. 

In my opinion the duties of a Commander-in-Chief are not 
limited to his staff work. He must also take an interest in the 
details of Command and frequently busy himself in the front line, 
for the following reasons: 

(a) Exact execution of the plans of the Commander-in-Chief 
and his staff is of the greatest importance. It is a mistake to 
assume that every local commander will make as much of a 
situation as there is to be made out of it. Most of them soon 
succumb to a certain need for rest. Then it is simply reported 
that this or that can't be done for some reason or another — 
such reasons arc always easy enough to think up. People of 
this kind must be made to feel the authority of the Com- 
mander-in-Chief and be shaken out of their apathy by him. 
The Commander-in-Chief must be the driving motor of the 
battle. One must always have to reckon with his appearance 
in personal control. 

(b) The Commander-in-Chief must continually endeavour 
to keep his troops acquainted with the latest tactical know- 
ledge and experience and ensure that they are acted upon. 
He must see to it that his subordinates are trained according 
to the most modern developments. The best form of 
" welfare *' for the troops is a superlative state of training, 
for this saves unnecessary casualties. 

(c) For the Commander-in-Chief, too, it is a great ad- 
vantage to know the front and to have a detailed knowledge 
of the problems of his subordinates. Only in this way can he 
keep his ideas continually up-to-date and adapt them to the . 
conditions of the moment. If, on the other hand, he conducts 
the battle as though he were playing chess, he will inevitably 
become inflexible in his theories. The best results are obtained 
by the commander whose ideas develop freely from the con- 
ditions around him and have not previously been channelled 
into any fixed pattern. 

(d) The Commander-in-Chief must have contact with his 
troops. He must be able to fed and think with them. The 
soldier must have confidence in him. In this connection there 



$8o ROMMEL 

is one cardinal principle to remember: one must never 
simulate a feeling for the troops which in fact one does not 
have. The ordinary soldier has a surprisingly good nose for 
what is genuine and what is fake. 



ALLIED AIR SUPREMACY 

Writing after the battle of Alam-el-Halfa, Rommel stresses the 
threat to the Axisjorces of the growing Allied air superiority 

■ 

The enemy will conduct the war of attrition from the air. His 
bombs will be particularly effective against the motoriscd forces, 
standing without cover in the open desert. Their vehicles, tanks 
and guns will ofTcr a magnificent target lor bombers and low- 
Hying aircraft, whether on the march, in the attack assembly area 
or in the attack itself. In due course the enemy will be able to give 
our forces such a pounding that they will be virtually rendered 
unfit lor action — and that without his having made any appreci- 
able expenditure of the strength of his own troops. From the 
Command point of view he will gain the following advantages: 

(a) He will be able to secure complete aerial reconnaissance 
reports. 

(b) He will be able to operate much more freely and boldly 
since, in an emergency, his Air Force will be able to break up 
the approach march and assembly and, indeed, any operation 
of his opponents or to delay them until he has taken effective 
coun ter-measures. 

(c) The slowing down of his opponent's movements will be 
accompanied by the speeding up of his own. Since speed is 
one of the most important factors in desert warfare, the effect 
of this development is easy to foresee. 

Moreover, whoever has command of the air is in a position to 
inflict such damage on his opponent's supply columns that serious 
shortages will soon make themselves felt. By maintaining a con- 
tinuous watch over the roads leading to the front he can stop 



ALLIED AIR SUPREMACY 



completely all supply traffic in daylight and restrict it to the hours 
of darkness, thus occasioning an irretrievable loss of time. 

For us, therefore, it was fundamentally necessary to dispose of 
such stronger air forces as would give us, if not equality in the air, 
at least something approaching equality, . . . Any one who has to 
fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy with 
complete air superiority, fights like a savage against modern 
European troops, under the same operational and tactical 
handicaps and with the same chances of success. 

We had now to try to put our defence against the expected 
British attack (the El Alamein offensive] into such a form that the 
British air superiority would have the least possible effect. For the 
first and most serious danger was that which threatened us from 
the air. As the result, we could no longer put the main burden of 
the defensive battle on to the motorised lbrmations since these, as 
has been shown, were too vulnerable to attack from the air. 
Instead, we had to try to resist the enemy in fixed positions, con- 
structed for defence against the most modern weapons of war. We 
had to accept the fact that in future the enemy would be able to 
delay our operations at will by strong air attacks by day and 
similar attacks at night with the aid of parachute Hares. Ex- 
perience had taught us that no man could be expected to stay in 
his vehicle and drive on when attacked by enemy bombers and 
that it was useless to try to work to a time-table. Our positions 
had to be constructed so strongly that they could be held by their 
local garrisons independently and over a long period, without 
support of operational reserves, until, in spite of the delays caused 
uy the R.A.F., reinforcements could arrive. 

British air superiority threw to the winds all our operational 
and tactical rules, which hitherto had been followed with such 
success, simply because they could no longer be applied. Without 
strong air forces of our own, there was no answer to the problem 
of dealing with the enemy air superiority. The strength of the 
Anglo-American Air Force was, in all the battles to come, the 
deciding factor. 



THE BATTLES OF 1942 



RommeVs account of the battles of the spring and summer of 
1942 runs to such length that it is impossible to give it lure, in 
the limited space available, as a connected narrative. J have, 
therefore, selected passages which throw light on his military 
thinking, on his relation with the German High Command, on 
his judgment of his opponents and on his plans, vetoed by Hitler, 
for escaping complete disaster in North Africa. Such passages 
have not been summarised but are given in his own words with 
occasional interpolations in square brackets. It will be seen 
that the views attributed to Rommel in the book itself are con- 
firmed by his own writings. The words " operational '* and 
*' operations,* 1 which occur frequently in the text, have a special 
significance in German military phraseology, not easy to express 
exactly in English, Hie field of " operations " lies between 
strategy and tactics. Rommel himself, until the final stages, was 
an ** operational " commander in North Africa, as was General 
Montgomery, whereas Generals Wavell, Auchinleck and Alex- 
ander had responsibilities in tlie sphere of strategy. " Operational 
reserves ** are the reserves available to the commander in the 
field. An " operation " is used by Rommel to describe a dynamic 

movement of the bulk of his motorised forces 

After the end of our counter-offensive, which had led, at the 
beginning of 194s, to the reconquest of Cyrenaica, serious 
difficulties arose over supplies. 

The reason, apart from the scant attention given to the African 
theatre of war by the German High Command, who failed to 
recognise its immense importance, was the half-hearted conduct 
of the war at sea by the Italians, whereas the British Navy was 
very active and the R.A.F. caused us tremendous trouble. 

The German High Command, to which I was subordinate, 
continued to ignore the importance of the African theatre. They 
did not realise that in the Near East we were able, with relatively 
small means, to achieve successes which* in their strategic and 

28a 



THE BATTLES OF 1 942 



283 



economic value, would have far surpassed the conquest of the 
Don Bend. Ahead of us were territories containing an enormous 
wealth of raw materials, Africa, for example, and the Middle East, 
which could have freed us from all of our anxities about oil. The 
reinforcement of my army by a few German motoriscd divisions 
would have been sufficient to bring about the complete defeat of 
the entire British forces in the Near East. 

It was not to be. Our demands for reinforcement by additional 
formations were not granted. The decision was explained by the 
statement that the Eastern From required such vast quantities ot 
transport that the creation of further motoriscd units for Africa was 
quite out of the question in view of Germany's limited productive 
capacity. Quite clearly some people in the High Command 
believed all along that Africa was in any case a " lost cause," as 
had been unequivocally stated as far back as 1941- It was 
apparently their opinion that the investment of large quantities 
of material in Africa would pay no dividends. A regrettably 
short-sighted and misguided view! 

For the supply difficulties which they were anxious to describe 
as " insuperable " were far from being so. All that was wanted 
was a roan with real personality to deal with these questions in 
Rome, someone with the authority and drive to tackle the pro 
blems involved. This would undoubtedly have led to friction in 
certain Italian circles but this could have been overcome by a 
mission which was not encumbered with political functioas. Our 
Government's weak policy towards the Italian Stale seriously 
damaged the German-Italian cause in North Africa. 

The heavy burden placed upon German material resources by 
the Eastern Front was certainly not to be underestimated, 
particularly alter we had lost the greater part of our equipment 
there in the winter of 1941-42. But in spite of all this I am firmly 
convinced that, considering the tremendous possibilities offered by 
the North African theatre, there were undoubtedly less important 
sectors of the front which could have spared some mechanised 
divisions. It can truthfully be said that there was a lack of 
understanding of the situation and hence of goodwill. 

The consequences were serious. For a year and a half, up to 
the moment when our strength failed in front of El Alamein, we 
had, with only three German divisions, whose fighting strength 



284 ROMMEL 

was often ridiculously small, kept the British in Africa busy and 
inflicted on them many a heavy defeat. After the loss of Africa 
an increasingly large number of German divisions had to face the 
British and Americans, until finally some 70 divisions had to be 
thrown into the battle in Italy and France. Given six or seven 
German motorised divisions we could, in the summer of 1942, have 
so thoroughly mauled the British that the threat from the south 
would have been eliminated for a long time. With a certain 
amount of goodwill, supplies for these formations could have been 
organised in sufficient quantities. Later on, in Tunis, when it was, 
of course, already too late, it proved perfectly possible suddenly 
to double the amount of our supplies. But at the time it had at 
last come to be realised that we were up to our necks in trouble 
in the Mediterranean theatre. 

Earlier, after a period during which, out of total supply require- 
ments of 60,000 tons only 1 8,000 tons reached the German army 
on African soil, the situation temporarily changed, thanks to the 
initiative of Field- Marshal Kcsselring, whose air forces were able, 
during die spring of 1942, to gain superiority in the Central 
Mediterranean. In particular, the heavy Axis air raids against 
Malta contributed greatly to the fact that, for some time, the 
threat to the sea routes was as good as eliminated. It was only 
because of this that it was possible to increase the flow of material 
to Tripoli, Benghazi and Derna. 

Nevertheless it was obvious that the British Eighth Army would 
be reinforced more rapidly than ourselves. The greatest efforts 
had been made by the British Government to provide the Eighth 
Army with all the material they could lay their hands on. Large 
convoys arrived one after the other in the Egyptian ports, bringing 
war material from England or America round the Cape. Naturally 
this 12,000 miles voyage, which the British transports could make 
at the most only a couple of times a year, involved tremendous 
problems for the enemy staff, already struggling with the serious 
problem created by the activity of our U-boats. But in spite of 
all this, the British Navy and Merchant Marine were able to 
maintain over this huge distance supplies to the British forces in 
the Near East on a scale far superior to our own. Petrol, moreover, 
could be obtained in abundance from the refineries of the Near 
East. Only rarely did the British supply ports become the target 



THE BATTLES OF I 94 2 *8 5 

of serious German bombing attacks. From these ports the British 
could bring up their supplies to the front by three routes : 

r. A well-constructed railway ran from the Suez area to 
the outer perimeter of Tobruk. 

2. The British Navy had organised coastal shipping in an 
admirable manner and in Tobruk had one of the best ports 
in North Africa. 

3. A well-built road sufficiently wide for supply columns 
to pass was available. 

Above all, there were people on the British side with great 
influence who were doing everything they could to organise the 
supply service in the most efficient manner possible. Our enemy 
benefited by the fact that North Africa was the principal theatre 
of war for the British Empire and was therefore regarded as the 
most important by the British Government as well as from the 
fact that Britain had a first-class, powerful navy of her own while 
we had to deal with unreliable Italian naval staffs. 

It was obvious to us that the British would try, with all the 
means at their disposal, to destroy my army as soon as they felt 
themselves strong enough to attempt it. Our southern flank lay 
wide open. Ritchie would have a great number of operational 
choices. Our supply lines would be constantly threatened. If 
we were compelled to withdraw owing to the danger of being 
outflanked we would be in very serious difficulties, for most of 
my Italian divisions were not motorised. But Ritchie was not to 
have the chance to exploit his many opportunities, for I had 
decided to anticipate his attack. 

■ 

■ 

British Positions in the Marmarica 

The basic British plan for the defence of the Marmarica was 
characterised by their efforts to impose upon the attacker a form 
of warfare which was better suited to the British Command than 
manoeuvring in the open desert. Technically the execution of this 
plan was excellent, but the British approached the solution of the 
problem from false premises. In North Africa, a rigid system of 
defence in any position with an open southern flank was bound to 
lead to disaster. In these , circumstances a defensive battle could 
only be Successful if it were conducted as an operation. Naturally 



286 



ROMMEL 



fortified positions might also be of great value — if they deprived 
the enemy of the chance of any particular operational action. But 
it was essentia] that they should not be occupied by the force 
destined for the operational defence. 

The plan which my staff and I worked out gave the possibility 
of a decision in the most favourable circumstances. But the fate 
of my army did not by any means depend on the success of this 
conception alone. Following my usual practice, I calculated from 
the beginning on the basis that things might not go according to 
plan. As far as could humanly be foreseen the situation at the start 
of the battle would be far from unfavourable. With full confidence 
in our troops, their excellent tactical training and experience in 
improvisation, we approached the battle full of optimism. 

Plan of Attack 

The opening move of the offensive was to be made by a frontal 
attack of the Italian infantry divisions occupying the Gazala 
positions against the 50th British Division and the South Africans. 
A powerful force of artillery was earmarked to support this attack. 
The impression was to be created both by day and by night that 
tank assembly positions existed behind the front. For this purpose 
tanks and lorries were to be driven round in circles in this area. 
The British Command was 10 he made to expert our main attack 
in the northern and central part of the Gazala position. What we 
wanted to achieve was for the British tank formations to deploy 
behind the infantry on this sector of die front. To the British 
Command, the idea of a German frontal attack against the Gazala 
position could not have appeared too far-fetched as it was by no 
means impossible that we should prefer such an attack to the risky 
right hook round Bir Hacheim. If our attempts to mislead the 
British into concentrating their entire tank forces there should fail, 
then we hoped that they would send at least part of their tank 
brigades into that sector, and thereby split their striking force. 

During daylight hours all movement of my motorised forces was 
to be directed towards the point of attack of the Italian infantry. 
But after nightfall the motorised group was to drive into its 
assembly area. This group consisted of the German Afrika Korps 
with the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, the 20th Italian Motorised 



THE BATTLES OF 1 942 



287 



{ orps and the 90th Light Division with the three reconnaissance 
units. The beginning of the advance, which was to take the form 
of an enveloping attack on Bir Hachcim, was fixed for 2200 hours. 
From there the German Afrika Korps and 20th Italian Corps with 
the Arietc Tank Division and Trieste Motoriscd Division were lo 
push on to the coast via Acroma, in order to cut the supply line 
and smash the British divisions in the Gazala position, together 
with the tank forces which were there assembled. 

The 90th Light Division was ordered to push into the El Adcm- 
El Hamed area together with the three reconnaissance units in 
order to prevent the withdrawal of the Tobruk garrison and the 
bringing up of reinforcements into the Acroma area. In addition 
the British were to be cut off from the extensive supply depots 
which they had established in the area east of Tobruk. In order 
to simulate the existence of massed tank forces in that area the 
90th Light Division had been equipped with lorries on which were 
mounted aero-engines fitted with propellers, which were intended, 
by stirring up large quantities of dust, to suggest the approach of 
strong tank forces. We wanted to keep the British forces in that 
area from intervening in the Acroma battle, so long as our tank 
units were trying to achieve a decision there. 

Following upon the destruction of the British forces in the 
Marmarica we had planned for a rapid conquest of the fortress 
of Tobruk. My freedom of operation had been limited by the 
Duce to the area bounded by the Egyptian frontier. 

It had actually been intended that Malta should be taken by 
Julian and German parachute and landing forces before the 
offensive started but for some unaccountable reason our High 
Command abandoned this scheme. Unfortunately, my request 
to have this attractive little job entrusted to my own army had 
been turned down back in the spring. Consequently, in view of 
the steady increase in British war potential, we fixed the date of 
the attack for May 26th, 1942. 

Battles for Gazala Position 

This covers the period from May 26th to June 15th. During 
these three weeks the battle of attrition was waged in the Western 
Desert in its most ruthless form. The battle opened very badly 



288 



ROMMEL 



for us but in the fluctuating fighting which ensued, we succeeded, 
partly by means of attacks with limited objectives, partly by means 
of our defence, in defeating the superior British formations, in 
spite of the courage which their troops displayed. 

In view of the superior strength of the British forces this victory 
of my German-Italian troops came as a complete surprise to world 
opinion. The dispositions of my adversary, Lieut.-General Ritchie, 
were severely criticised. Was their defeat in fact caused by the 
mistakes of the British commander? After the battle I came across 
an article by the British military critic, Liddcll Hart, which 
ascribed the shortcomings of the British Command during the 
African campaign to the fact that the British generals stuck too 
closely to infantry warfare. I had the same impression. The 
British Command had not drawn the inferences which it should 
have drawn from the defeat of 1941-42. Prejudice against innova- 
tions is a typical characteristic of an Officer Corps which has grown 
up in a well-tried and proved system. That was the reason why the 
Prussian Army was defeated by Napoleon. The same phenomenon 
demonstrated itself during the war amongst both British and 
German officers, who, in their preoccupation with complicated 
theories, had lost the ability to adapt themselves to the realities of 
the situation. A military doc- trine had been worked out down to 
the last detail, and it was now regarded as the sum of military 
wisdom. In their opinion, only that military thinking which 
followed their standardised rules was acceptable. Everything out- 
side these rules they regarded as a gamble and, if it succeeded, the 
result of luck and accident. This attitude of mind created 
prejudice, the consequences of which were quite incalculable. 

For even military rules are affected by technical development. 
What was valid in 1914 is valid to-day only where the greater part 
of the formations engaged on both sides, or at least on the side 
which is attacked, consists of non-motorised infantry units. In 
this situation the armoured troops still play the part of the cavalry 
whose task it is to outrun and cut off the infantry. Quite different 
rules apply in a battle which is being fought by fully motorised 
adversaries on both sides, as I have already explained. However 
valuable it may be to base one's actions upon tradition in the field 
of soldierly ethics, this attitude must be condemned in the field of 
military science. For in these days it is not left to the military 



rilE BATTLES OF 1 942 



289 



leaders alone to think up new methods, thereby rendering others 
valueless; today the possibilities of warfare are constantly being 
changed by technical progress. Hence, the modern army com- 
mander must be free of all excessive attachment to routine methods 
and must have an extensive understanding of technical matters. 
He must be ready to adapt his ideas to the situation at any given 
moment and to turn the whole structure of his thinking inside out, 
if conditions should make it necessary. I think that my adversary, 
General Ritchie, like many generals of the older school, had not 
completely realised the consequences which followed from the 
fully motoriscd conduct of operations and from the open terrain 
of the desert. In spite of the excellent and detailed way in which 
his plans had been worked out, they were bound to fail, for they 
were in effect a compromise. 

In spite of the dangerous situation which existed on the evening 
of May 27th, which set us serious problems, I was full of hope 
about the further course of the battle. For Ritchie had thrown his 
armoured formations into the battle separately and at different 
times, thereby giving us the chance of engaging them each time 
with just about enough of our own tanks. This splitting up of the 
British armoured brigades was incomprehensible. In my opinion 
the sacrifice of the 7th British Armoured Division south and south- 
east of Bir-cl-Harmat served no operational purpose whatever for 
it made no difference whether my Panzer division were engaged 
there or at the Trigh-el-Abd, where the remainder of the British 
armoured Ibrces did eventually enter the battle. The principal aim 
Oj> the British should have been to bring all their available 
armoured formations into action at one and the same time. They 
should never have let themselves be misled into splitting up their 
forces before the battle or during our feint against the Gaza I a 
position. The fact that their units were fully motorised would have 
enabled them to cross the battlefield at great speed, if and wherever 
danger had threatened. Mobile warfare in the desert has often 
and rightly been compared to a batde at sea where, in the same 
way, it is wrong to attack piecemeal, leaving part of the ships in 
port during the battle. 

[Here follows a detailed account oj events up to the evening of May 2<jtfu] 



ROMMEL 



Breaking through the Minefields 

At first light on May 30th each of the divisions moved into the 
area assigned to it and took up a defensive position. During these 
movements we noticed the presence of strong British forces with 
tanks in the Ualeb area. This was the strengthened 150th British 
Brigade from the 50th Division. In the meantime part of the 
10th Italian Corps had succeeded in crossing the British minefields 
and establishing a bridgehead on the eastern side of them, although 
the lanes the Italians cleared through the minebelts were subjected 
to heavy British artillery (ire, which had a most upsetting effect 
on our moving columns. All the same, by noon contact had been 
established between the striking force and ihe 10th Italian Corps 
and thus a direct route opened to the west for supplies and rein- 
forcements. During the day the British brigade was encircled in 
Got-el-Ualcb. 

In the afternoon I drove through the minefield to the 10th Corps 
headquarters for a meeting with Field-Marshal Kessclring; the 
Italian Corps Commander and Major von Below, the Ftihrer's 
adjutant, and told them my plans. The British minefield was to 
be shielded by the Afrika Korps from all attacks by British forma- 
tions from the north-east. Meanwhile I intended to smash the 
whole of the southern part of the Gazala position and subsequently < 
to resume the offensive. The operation would include the destrue- ] 
tion of, first, the 150th British Brigade at Ualeb, and then the j 
1st French Brigade in Bir Hacheim. 

The enemy had only hesitatingly followed up our withdrawal. 
The falling back of the German-Italian formations had evidently 
come as a surprise to him and besides this the British Command 
never reacted very quickly. Already on the morning of May 30th 
we had noticed the British taking up positions with 280 tanks on 
the east and 1 50 infantry tanks on the north of our front. We kept 
waiting for the British to strike a heavy blow. But in the morning 
only a few British attacks were launched on the Ariete and beaten 
off by the Italians and there were some slight British advances on 
the rest of the front. 57 British tanks were shot up that day. 

In the afternoon I myself reconnoitred the possibilities of an 
attack against the forces occupying Got-el-Ualeb and I detailed 
part of the Afrika Korps, part of the 90th Light Division and the 



THE BATTLES OE 1 942 



291 



Italian ** Trieste " Division for an attack on the following morning 
against the British positions there. 

The attacking formations advanced against the British 150th 
Brigade on the morning of May 31st. Yard by yard the German- 
Italian units fought their way forward against the toughest British 
resistance imaginable. The British defence was conducted with 
considerable skill. As usual the British fought to the last round 
of ammunition. They used a new anti-tank gun of 57 mm. calibre. 
Nevertheless by the evening of the 31st we had penetrated a con- 
siderable distance into the British positions. On the next day the 
British occupying forces were to receive their final knock-out. 
Again our infantry, after heavy Stuka attacks, burst against the 
British positions. On this day I accompanied the attacking troops 
with Colonel Westphal. He was unfortunately severely wounded 
the same day in a surprise British mortar attack and had to be 
taken back to Europe, so that I had to do without him in the days 
that followed. Tins was a bitter loss. For me his assistance had 
always been of outstanding value, because of his extraordinary 
knowledge and experience and readiness to take decisions. 

The attack continued. One after another the sections of the 
elaborately constructed British defence system were taken by my 
troops, and by early afternoon the position was in our hands. The 
last British resistance was at an end. We tooK 3000 prisoners, and 
destroyed or captured 101 tanks and scout-cars as well as 124 guns 
of every kind. 

Ihe British Soldier 

[In describing the operations of the next few days, Rommel touches on 
the merits and demerits of his opponents. J 

That day the Guards Brigade had evacuated Knightsbridgc, 
after the area had been subjected ail the morning to the combined 
fire of every piece of artillery we could bring to bear. This brigade 
was practically a living embodiment of the positive and negative 
qualities of the British soldier. An extraordinary bravery and 
toughness was combined with a rigid inability to move quickly. 

[After describing the capture of Tobruk, Rommel touches on his decision 
to advance into Egypt, contrary to the Duce's original orders.] 

This was a plan which might perhaps succeed. It was an 



ROMMEL 



experiment. The operation would not entail any risk to my army's 
safety. As things were we could have defended ourselves with 
success in every possible situation during our advance. 

Later this advance came in for some criticism. It was "said that 
the supply columns available in North Africa would not in the 
long run have been able to manage the long supply-route from 
Benghazi to El Alamein and that the British would have greatly 
benefited from the shorter supply route to their front from Port 
Said. To this there are the following counter-arguments: 

(a) British superiority at Solium would have had an even 
greater effect than at El Alamein. The enemy could have 
outflanked our forces by deep detours and destroyed our 
motorised divisions with their armoured formations which, at 
the time of El Alamein, were heavily superior not only in 
numbers, as before, but also in quality. The prospect of 
withdrawing our non-motorised infantry from the Solium 
front would have been even worse than from El Alamein. 
During the El Alamein battle they represented the bulk of the 
army, but they would have had no chance of effective action 
at Solium, where the positions they occupied demanded no 
break-through attempts from the enemy but only an easy 
outflanking movement. They would have proved either an 
easy prey for the British motorised units or a burden in a 
withdrawal. Of course our supply columns had to cope with 
serious difficulties during the advance into Egypt. But it was 
essential to demand the same efforts from the supply staffs 
in Rome as from the tank crews and infantry, overtired after 
three weeks of fighting. Thus, supply by sea to the harbours 
in the forward area should have been improvised as it bad 
always been promised would be done in these circumstances. 
When I gave the order for the thrust into Egypt, I assumed 
that the fact that final success in Egypt had been brought so 
close would have spurred the Italian High Command on to 
making some sort of increase in their effort, and I had, 
therefore, several times clearly and plainly asked for the 
exploitation of the captured harbours. 

(b) There would have been no considerable improvement 
in our supply position at Solium either, because then Ben- 
ghazi and Tobruk, instead of Tobruk and Mersa Matruh, 



THE BATTLES OF I 942 293 

■ 

would have been within effective range of the British bombers. 
Benghazi would have been ruled out, for all practical pur- 
poses, for vessels of large tonnage, and this would have meant 
extending the transport route as far as Tripoli, which would 
have been beyond the capabilities of our supply-columns. For 
the British, on the other hand, to operate on the frontier 
would have scarcely made any difference to their supply 
position. At their disposal were railways, enough vehicles for 
road-supplies, and well-organised coastal shipping. 
( The advance into Egypt was marked by heavy and confused fighting,] 
The New Zealand Division under Freyberg, an old acquaintance 
of mine from previous campaigns, concentrated in the night and 
broke out to the south. The wild flare-up that ensued involved 
my own battle headquarters, which lay to the south. The Kiel 
battle-group and parts of the Littorio went into action. The ex- 
changes of fire between my forces and the New Zealanders reached 
an extraordinary pitch of intensity. Soon my headquarters were 
surrounded by burning vehicles, making them the target for 
continuous enemy fire at close range. I had enough of this after 
a while and ordered the troops, with the staff, to move back south- 
eastward. The confusion reigning on that night can scarcely be 
imagined. It was impossible to see one's hand before one's eyes. 
The R.A.F. bombed their own. troops, German units were firing 
on each other, the tracer was flying in all directions. 

Before El Alamein 

■ 

■ 

With amazing swiftness the British organised fresh reinforce- 
ments for Alamein. Their High Command had recognised that 
the next batde there would be largely decisive and they had con- 
sidered the situation with sober care. The danger of the hour 
drove the British to extraordinary efforts. In times of extreme 
peril it is always possible to achieve objects until then considered 
impossible, for there is nothing like danger for sweeping aside 
preconceived ideas. 

By July 13th the front was stabilised. From the point of view 
of command the British were here in their element, for their strong 
quality was a form of tactics which expressed itself in the modern* 
kind of infantry fighting and static warfare. Their speciality lay 



294 ROMMEL 

in local attacks, carried out under the protection or infantry tanks I 
and artillery. The Alamein position adjoined the sea to the north, 
and to the south it sank away into the Quattara Depression, a 
level area of moving sand with many salt-marshes, and therefore 
impassable for heavy vehicles. As the Alamein position could not, 
therefore, be outflanked, the war became one in which both sides 1 
disposed of great experience and knowledge, but neither could) 
make use of revolutionary methods which would come as a com- j 
plete surprise to the other. The outcome of this static war depended ] 
on who had mure ammunition. 

I had, therefore, wanted to escape in the last few days from this] 
static warfare, in whirh the British were masters and for which 
their infantry had been trained, and to reach the open desert 
before Alexandria, where 1 could exploit the absolute operational 
superiority we enjoyed in open desert battles. But in this I did 
no succeed; the British knew quite well how to break up the 
thrusts of my severely weakened forces. 

Retrospect 

With these actions the great battle of the early summer came' 
to an end. It had begun with a fantastic victory. After Tobruk 
had been captured, the extraordinary strength of the British 
Empire began to show itself again. For only a few days could wc 
hope to go on past El Alamein and occupy the Suez Canal area. 
While we must fight every battle with the same forces, the British 
were able to throw fresh troops, fully armed and up to strength, 
into the fight and withdraw from the Alamein front for recupera- 
tion those divisions which had been badly hammered in Marmarica 
and Western Egypt. My troops stayed in the fight. My numbers 
grew always less, while at the same time the losses from dead, 
wounded and sick kept rising. Always it was the same battalions 
which advanced, largely in captured lorries, on the British 
positions, and then, springing from their vehicles, charged over 
the sand at the enemy. Always it was the same tank forces which 
drove into the battle, and the same gunners who fired the shells. 
The deeds performed in those weeks by officers and men reached 
the limits of human efficiency. 

I had made extraordinary demands on my forces and spared 



THE BATTLES OF 1 942 295 

neither the rank and file, nor their leaders, nor myself. It was 
obvious to me that the fall of Tobruk and the collapse of the 
Eighth Army was the one moment in the African war when the 
road lay open to Alexandria with only a few British troops to 
defend it. I and my colleagues would have been fools if we had 
not done everything to exploit this one and only chance. If success 
had depended, as it did in olden days, on the stronger will of the 
soldiers and their leader, then we would have overrun Alamein. 
But our sources of supply dried up, thanks to the inactivity and 
disorganisation of the supply depots in Europe. 

Then the powers of resistance of many of the Italian formations 
collapsed. The duty of comradeship obliges me to make clear, 
particularly as I was supreme commander also of the Italians, 
that the defeats the Italian forces suffered in early July before El 
Alamein were in no way the fault of the Italian soldiers. The 
Italian soldier was willing, unselfish and a good comrade and, 
c onsidering his circumstances, his achievement was far above the 
average. The performance of all the Italian units, more especially 
of the motoriscd forces, far surpassed anything the Italian Army 
had done for a hundred years. There were many Italian officers 
and generals whom we admired as men and as soldiers. 

The cause of the Italian defeat sprang from the entire Italian 
military and state system, from the poor Italian equipment, and 
from the small interest shown in this war by many high Italian 
leaders and statesmen. This failure often prevented me from 
carrying out my plans. 

■ 

The Battle of Alam-El-Halpa 

By the end of August the urgently needed supplies of ammunition 
and petrol, promised by the Supreme Command, had still not 
arrived. The full moon, absolutely vital to our operation, was 
already on the wane. Further delay would have meant finally 
giving up our offensive. Marshal Cavallero, however, informed 
me that the petrol ships, heavily escorted, would arrive in a matter 
of hours, or the next day at the latest. Hoping for the fulfilment 
of this promise; trusting to the assurance of Marshal Kesselring 
that he would fly up to 500 tons over to North Africa in case of 
need; but above all certain that if we let the full moon go by we 



ROMMEL 



were losing our last chance of taking the offensive, I gave the 
order for the attack to be carried out on the night of August 
<joth-3ist as planned. 

Everything had been in readiness several days beJbre; lor we 
had reckoned with the arrival of the petrol at any minute. But in 
fact we did not want to start moving until after the arrival of the 
petrol, in view of the unreliability of Cavallcro. 

In the early stages ol the battle, the British defended their 
strong positions with extraordinary toughness and so hindered our 
advance. As a result they were able to send warnings and situation 
reports back to headquarters and give the British Command time 
to put the necessary counter-measures into operation. Such a 
breathing space was of tremendous importance to the British. 
They needed to hold their front only until their striking forces had 
grouped themselves for the necessary action against the German- 
Italian iorces which had broken through. 

My plan, to go forward with the mororiscd forces another fifty 
kilometres by moonlight, and from there to proceed to a further 
attack northwards in the early morning light, did not succeed. 
1 he tanks were held up by unsuspected ground obstacles and we 
lost the element of surprise, on which the whole plan finally 
rested. In view of this we now considered whether we should 
break off the battle. 

Had there been a quick break-through in the south by the 
motonsed forces, the British would have needed time for recon- 
naissance, ior making decisions and for putting them into effect. 
During this time our movements need not have met with any 
serious counter-measures. But we had now lost the advantage of 
tliis breathing-space. The British knew where we were. I resolved 
that my decision, whether or not to break off the battle, should 
depend on how things stood with the Afrika Korps. 

1 learned soon afterwards that the Afrika Korps, under the 
outstanding leadership of the Chief ol the General Staff, General 
Bayerlein, had in the meantime overcome the British mines and 
was about to push farther eastwards. I discussed the situation with 
Bayerlein and we decided to carry on with the attack. 

Owing to the fact that the British tank forces were again 
assembled ready for immediate action, a wide outflanking drive 
to the east could not be carried out, in view of the constant menace 



THE BATTLES OF 1 942 



297 



to our own (lank which would be presented by the 7th Armoured 
Division to the south and by the 10th and 1st Armoured Divisions 
in the north. We had to deride on an earlier turn northwards. 
In the event, the offensive tailed because: 

(a) The British positions in the south, contrary to what our 
reconnaissance had led us to believe, had been completed in 
great strength. 

(b) The continuous and very heavy attacks of the R.A.F., 
who were practically masters of the air, absolutely pinned my 
troops io the ground and made impossible any safe deploy- 
ment or any advance according to schedule. 

(c) The petrol, which was a necessary condition of the 
carrying out of our plans, did not arrive. The ships which 
Cavellero had promised us were some of them sunk, some of 
them delayed and some oi them not even dispatched. 
Kesselring had unfortunately not been able to fulfil his 
promise to fly over 500 tons a day to the vicinity of the front 
in case of need. 

Brigadier Clifton 

A night attack on the 10th Italian Corps cost the British 
particularly heavy losses, including many dead. There were also 
two hundred prisoners, among them Brigadier Clifton, command- 
ing the 6th New Zealand Brigade. I had a conversation with him 
on the following morning. He had just been busy convincing the 
Julians that they must surrender, in view of the strong British 
tank forces facing their position, and the Italians had already 
taken the bolts out of their rifles, when, to his annoyance, a 
German officer had arrived and his plan came to nothing. 

He seemed extremely depressed as a result. I tackled him 
about various acts, contrary to international law, committed by 
New Zealand troops. Clifton showed the most absolute certainty 
of victory, which was understandable now that our attack had 
been beaten back. He was an old Africa veteran, for he had led 
British troops against us since 1940, had been in Greece, and was 
also in the winter fighting of 1941-42. 

He impressed us as a very brave man and very likeable. He 
insisted oa becoming a prisoner of the Germans and not being 



ROMMEL 



sent to Italy. I tried to carry out his wish, and, evading general 
instructions, handed him over to a German depot in Mersa 
Matruh. However the O.K.H. later ordered that he should be 
handed over to the Italians. 

a 

But on the evening before he was due to be handed to the 
Italians, Clifton asked to go to the lavatory, where he got out of 
the window and vanished without trace. All troops were at once 
warned by wireless. A few days later some of my staff officers 
were hunting gazelle when they suddenly saw a weary foot- 
traveller coming across the desert, carrying what seemed to be a 
water-bottle in his hand. Closer observation revealed him as the 
much sought-after Clifton. He was at once arrested and brought 
in to us again. I expressed to him my recognition of his courage ; 
for not every man would contemplate such a trek through the 
desert. He looked very exhausted, which was not surprising* To 
stop any more attempts at escape, I had him sent at once to Italy. 
Later I heard that he disappeared from the Italian prison camp 
in the disguise of a Hitler J ugend leader, with shorts and badge of 
rank, and in this uniform crossed over the frontier into Switzerland. 

[Rommel's information was incorrect.] 

El Alamein 

[Before going sick to Germany, Rommel made his plans to resist the 
expected British attack at El Alamein.] 

In training and command we were, as all previous battles had 
shown, considerably superior to the British troops in the open 
desert. Though it could be assumed that, as far as tactics were 
concerned, the British had learnt a good deal from the many 
battles and skirmishes which we had had with them, they could 
not possibly have profited fully from them as their shortcomings 
were not primarily due to their command but to the ultra- 
conservative structure of their army, which was in no way suitable 
for war in the open desert, though excellent for fighting on fixed 
fronts. 

In spite of all this, we could not take the risk of shifting the 
main weight of the defensive action on to operations in the open 
desert for the following reasons: 

(a) The proportionate strengths of the motorised divisions 



THE BATTLES OP 1 942 



had become too unequal. While our adversary was constantly 
being reinforced by motorised units, we received only non- 
motoriscd forces, which, in the open desert, were as good 
as useless. We were forced, therefore, to choose a form of 
warfare in which they too could play their part. 

(b) The British air superiority, the new air tactics of the 
R.A.F., and the resultant tactical limitations on the use of 
motorised forces, to which reference has already been made. 

(c) Our permanent shortage of petrol. I did not want to 
get myself again into the awkward situation of having to 
break ofTa battle because we were immobilised by a shortage 
of petrol. In a mobile defensive action shortage of petrol 
means disaster. 

Back to Africa 

The Fiihrer's call came through. The situation at El Alamein 
had developed in such a way that he must ask me to ily to Africa 
to take over command. T set off the next morning. I knew that 
there were no more laurels to be earned in Africa, for I had learnt 
from reports of my officers that supplies there had fallen far short 
of the minimum demands which I had made. It very soon became 
clear, however, that I had not had any idea of just how bad the 
supply situation really was. 

When I arrived in Rome towards n a.m., I was met at the 
airport by General von Rintelen, Military Attache and German 
General attached to the Italian forces. He informed me of the 
latest events in the African theatre. After powerful artillery 
preparation, the enemy had occupied parts of the positions to the 
south of Hill 31; several battalions of 1G4 Division and of the 
Italians had been completely wiped out. The British attack was 
still in progress and General Stumme was still missing. General 
von Rintelen further reported to me that only three issues of petrol 
remained for the Army in the African theatre, lor it had not been 
possible in recent weeks to send wore across, partly on account of 
the sinkings by the British, partly because the Italian Navy did 
not provide the transport. This situation was disastrous, since 
petrol for only 300 km. per vehicle between Tripoli and the front 
was so little that a prolonged resistance on our part was not to be 



3oo 



ROMMEL 



expected* Shortage of petrol would completely prevent our taking 
the correct tactical decisions and would impose tremendous 
limitations upon our planning. I was extremely angry, for at my 
departure there had been at least 8 issues left for the Army in 
Egypt and Libya and, in comparison with the minimum essential 
30 issues, even that had been ridiculously little. Experience had 
shown that one needed one issue of petrol for each day of battle.* 
Without it one was crippled and the enemy could operate without 
one being able to take practical counter-measures. General von 
Rintelen regretted this situation and said that he had unfortunately 
been on leave and had thus been unable to give sufficient attention 
to the supply question ! 

Feeling that wc would fight this battle with but small hope of 
even a defensive success, 1 flew across the Mediterranean in my 
Storch and reached my battle headquarters at dusk. In the mean- 
time the body of General Stumme had been found at about 
midday and taken to Derna. The circumstances of his death had 
been roughly these ; General Stumme had driven along the track 
to the battlefield and had been fired upon in the region of dill 2 1 
by British infantry with anti-tank and machine-guns. Colonel 
Buchting who accompanied him received a mortal wound in the 
head. The driver, Corporal Wolf, immediately turned the car. 
General Stumme leapt out and hung on to the outside of the car 
while the driver drove furiously out of the enemy fire. General 
Stumme must have suddenly had a heart attack and fallen off the 
car. The driver noticed nothing. On Sunday morning the General 
was found beside the track, dead, but without any injury. . 

General Stumme had always had far too high a blood pressure 
for Africa and was not therefore really fit for tropical service. We 
all deeply regretted his sudden death. He had spared no pains to 
command the army well and had been day and night at the front. 
Just before setting off for his last journey on October 24th he had 
said to his deputy that he felt it would be wise to ask for my return 
as, with his own short experience of the African theatre and in 
view of the tremendous British strength and the disastrous supply 
situation, he did not feel wholly certain of being able to bring 
the battle to a successful conclusion. I, for myself, was no more 
optimistic. 

•An issue in Africa appears to have been petrol for 100 km. 



THE BATTLES OF I 942 301 

\After a detailed description of the battle, too long to include here, 
Rommel gives the text of a telegram which reached him on the evening of 
November 1st and shows, as he says, how the situation was misunderstood 
in Borne.] 

" For Field Marshal Rommel 
The Duce has authorised me to convey to you his fullest apprecia- 
tion of the successful counter-attack led personally by you. The 
Duce conveys to you further his complete confidence that the 
battle now in progress will, under your command, be brought 
to a successful conclusion." 

It soon became obvious that the Fuhrcr's Headquarters had 
no better knowledge of the African situation. It is sometimes a 
misfortune to enjoy a certain military reputation. One knows 
one*s own limits but others expect miracles and set down a defeat 
to deliberate ill will. 

[After describing the concluding days of the battle, Rommel sums up.] 

El Alamein in Retrospect 

Wc had lost the decisive battle of the African campaign. It was 
decisive because the defeat resulted in the loss of the major part 
of our infantry and of our motorised forces. The consequences 
defied estimation. The amazing thing was that official quarters, 
both on the German and Italian side, attributed the trouble, not 
to the failure of supplies, not to our air inferiority, not to the 

■ 

order to conquer or die at £1 Alamein, but to the troops and the 
Command. The military career of most of these people who made 
such accusations against us was characterised by a continual 
absence from the front on the principle " weit vom Schuss gibt 
alte Krieger " — " far from the battle makes old soldiers." 

It was even said that we had thrown away our weapons, that 
I was a defeatist, a pessimist in defeat or in critical situations and 
therefore largely responsible. The fact was that I did not sit down 
under the constant reproaches which were levelled at the gallant 
troops and this gave rise in the future to many a quarrel and 
bitter argument. Those people, in particular, who had formerly 
been envious of me, now, after the defeat, suddenly had the 



302 ROMMEL 

courage to spread slander about us, where previously they had 
had to keep silent. The victim of this slander was the army, which, 
after my departure, fell into British hands in its entirety, while 
highly-qualified armchair strategists were still thinking about 
operations against Casablanca. 

It is no good denying that there were men in high places who 
were by no means lacking in the intelligence required to under- 
stand what was happening, but who lacked the courage to face 
soberly the unalterable conditions and to draw the necessary con- 
clusions from them. They preferred to put their heads in the sand, 
live in a sort of military pipe-dream and look for scapegoats, whom 
they usually found in the troops or in the field commanders. 

With all my experience, I can confess to only one mistake — that 
I did not circumvent the ** Victory or Death " order 24 hours 
earlier or did not disregard it altogether. Then the army, together 
with all its infantry, would in all probability have been saved in 
a more or less battleworthy condition. 

In order to leave no doubt for future historians about the con- 
ditions and circumstances under which the Command and troops 
were labouring at the battle of El Alamcin, I include the following 
summary : 

An adequate supply system and stocks of weapons, petrol 
and ammunition are essential conditions for any army to be 
able successfully to stand the strain of battle. Before the 
fighting proper, the battle is fought and decided by the 
Quartermasters. The bravest man can do nothing without 
guns, the guns nothing without plenty of ammunition and 
guns and ammunition are of little use in mobile warfare unless 
they can be transported by vehicles supplied with sufficient 
petrol. Supply must approximate in quantity to that which 
is available to the enemy and not only in quantity but also 
in quality. 

In future the battle on the ground will be preceded by the 
battle in the air. This will decide who will have to suffer 
under the operational and tactical disadvantages detailed 
above and who will, therefore, from the start be forced into 
tactical compromise. 
None of the conditions to which I have referred were in any 
way fulfilled and we had to suffer the consequences. 



THE BATTLES OF 1 942 



3<>3 



As a result of the British command ot the air and hence of the 
seas in the Central Mediterranean, and of other reasons detailed 
elsewhere, the army's supplies were hardly sufficient to enable it 
to eke out a bare existence even on quiet days. It was out of the 
question to think of building up stocks for a defensive battle. The 
quantities of material which were available to the British far 
exceeded our worst fears. Never before in any theatre of war had 
such a concentration of heavy tanks, bombers and artillery with 
inexhaustible supplies of ammunition been engaged on so short a 
front as at £1 Alamein. 

The British command of the air was complete. There were 
days when the British flew 800 bomber sorties and 2500 sorties of 
fighters, fighter-bombers and low-fiying aircraft. We, on the other 
hand, could at the most fly 60 dive-bomber and 100 fighter sorties. 
This number moreover became continually smaller. 

Generally speaking, the principles of the British Command had 
not altered. Now as ever their tactics were methodical and cast 
to a pattern. On this occasion the British principles did in fact 
help the Eighth Army to success, for the following reasons: 

(a) It did mot come to a battle in the open desert, since our 
motorised forces were forced to form a front for the sake of 
the fron tally engaged infantry divisions, who were without 
transport. The war took on the form of a battle of material. 

(b) The British had such superiority in weapons, both 
qualitative and quantitative, that they were able to force 
through any kind of operation. 

The methods used by the British Command for the destruction 
iff my force were a result of their overwhelming superiority. They 
consisted of the following: 

(a) Highly concentrated artillery fire. 

(b) Continuous bombing attacks by powerful bombef 
forces. 

(e) Locally limited attacks, which were carried through 
with lavish use of material and which revealed an extremely 
high state of training, entirely suited to the conditions. 
Apart from this, the planning of the British Command was 
based on the principle of exact calculation, a principle which can 
only be followed where there is complete material superiority. In 
actual fact the British did not attempt anything which could be 



ROMMEL 



called an ** operation " but relied solely on the effect of their 
artillery and air force. As always, the British Command showed a 
marked slowness in reaction. When, on the night of November 
and-3rd we started on the retreat, it was a long time before the 
enemy were ready to follow up for the pursuit. But for the inter- 
vention of Hitler's unfortunate order, it is highly probable that 
we would have escaped to Fuka with the bulk of our infantry. As 
always the British High Command showed its customary caution 
and little forceful decision. For instance, they attacked time and 
again with separate tank formations and did not, as might have 
been expected, throw into the battle the 900 tanks which they 
could, without risk to themselves, have employed in the northern 
front, thereby using their vast superiority to gain a rapid decision 
with the minimum of effort and casualties. Actually, under cover 
of their artillery and air force, only a half of that number would 
have been sufficient to wipe out my forces, which were frequeudy 
standing immobilised on the battlefield. Moreover, the British 
themselves suffered tremendous losses for this reason. Probably 
their Command wanted to hold its tanks in the second line so as 
to use them for the pursuit, as apparently their assault forces could 
not be re-formed fast enough for the follow-up. 

In the training of their tanks and infantry formations, the 
British Command had put to excellent use the experience which 
they had gained from their previous battles with the Axis troops, 
but it is true to say the new methods which were now being applied 
were only made possible by the vast quantity of their ammunition 
and new war material. 

The British artillery demonstrated once again its well-known 
excellence. Especially noteworthy was its great mobility and speed 
of reaction to the requirements of the assault troops. Apparently 
the British tank forces carried artillery observers who could report 
the requirements of the front in the shortest possible time to the 
artillery groups. In addition to their abundant supplies of am- 
munition, the great range of the British guns was of tremendous 
advantage to them. Thus they were able to bombard the Italian 
artillery positions while the Italian guns, whose range was often 
no more than 5-6 km, were quite unable to hit back. As by far 
the greater part of our artillery consisted of obsolete Italian guns, 
this was a particularly unpleasant state of affairs. 



BACK TO TUNISIA 305 

The courage of the German troops and of many of the Italians 
in this battle, even in the hour of disaster, was particularly worthy 
of admiration. The force could look back on a glorious record of 
one and a half years, such as is seldom achieved by any army. 
Every one of my soldiers was defending not only his homeland 
but also the tradition of the Panzer Army, Afrika. The struggle 
of my army, will in spite of its defeat, be a glorious page in the 
history of the German and Italian peoples. 



BACK TO TUNISIA 

During the retreat from El Alamein in November , 1942 \ Rommel 
prepared a plan /or juture operations in North Africa and this 
formed the basis of his discussions with Bastico, Cavallero, 
Kesselring, Goering and Hitlet. There follows an outline of 

it in his own words 

(a) In the existing conditions of supply, which permitted us 
neither the months-overdue replacements of tanks, vehicles and 
weapons nor a stock of petrol such as was necessary to carry 
through a mobile battle, we could not hope to be able to hold out 
against a powerful British attack in any position in Tripoli lania. 
For all positions which were at all possible could be outflanked in 
the south and consequently it would be necessary to put the main 
burden of the defence on motorised forces. From the beginning, 
therefore, it was necessary to be prepared to evacuate Tripolitania 
in order to occupy the Gabes position, which, in the south-west, 
leant on the Schott Dscherid and there finally come to a halt. In 
carrying out this withdrawal from Mersa-el-Brega to Tunisia 
there were two important considerations, on the one hand to gain 
as much time as possible and on the other to carry out the 
operation with the minimum losses of men and material. 

Our problem in this retreat was the non-motorised force of 
Italians. The slowest formation, assuming that one does not want 
to abandon it, always determines the speed of retreat of the whole 
army. This is a disastrous disadvantage in the face of a fully 



ROMMEL 



motorised and superior attacker. It was necessary, for these 
reasons, to move the Italian divisions to the west into new 
positions, before the beginning of the British attack, to keep the 
motorised troops at Mersa-el-Brcga so as to tie down the British, 
to mine the roads and to take advantage of every opportunity of 
inflicting damage on the enemy advanced guard. The British 
Commander had revealed himself as over-cautious. He risked 
nothing which was the least doubtful and any bold action was 
completely foreign to him. It was, therefore, the task of our 
motorised forces to give an impression of constant activity so as 
to make the British even more cautious and slow down their speed. 
It was clear to me that Montgomery would never take the risk of 
striking boldly after us and overrunning us, as he could have done 
perfectly safely. Indeed, looking at the operations as a whole, 
such a course would have cost him far smaller casualties than his 
methodical insistence on overwhelming superiority in each tactical 
action, at the sacrifice of speed. 

In any case the retreat to Tunisia was to be carried out in 
several stages, the British to be forced into deploying as often as 
possible. This was a gamble on the caution of the British Com- 
mander which proved to be very well justified. The Buerat line 
was earmarked as the first position, the line Tarhuna-Homs as the 
second. Even there we did not intend to accept battle; instead 
the infantry was to move off beforehand, while the mechanised 
formations lightly engaged the enemy and delayed their advance. 
At Gabes, which, like £1 Alamein, could not be outflanked from 
the south, the stand was finally to be made. 

(b) In die Gabes position the infantry could bear the main 
weight of the battle. The position did not lend itself to an attack 
by motorised forces and could only be broken through by the 
concentration of a tremendous quantity of material. Montgomery 
would take no risk and would need several months to bring up 
enough material from Libya so as to be able to attack the Wadi 
Akarit with good prospects of success. In the meantime the 
motorised forces were to be reinforced and refitted with the equip- 
ment which would be brought into Tunis while the retreat was 
going on. The 5th Panzer Army would have landed and we should 
have a chance of building up another striking force. 



BACK TO TUNISIA 307 

The great danger for us was the wide open front in the west of 
Tunisia which offered the British and Americans in that area good 
opportunities of launching an offensive. We must, therefore, first 
strike there, stage a surprise attack with the whole of our motorised 
forces, destroy a part ol the Anglo-American formations and drive 
the rest back into Algeria. Meanwhile Montgomery could not 
hope to do anything against the Gabcs position until he had built 
up large stocks of ammunition for his artillery. 

After the British and Americans had been beaten in western 
Tunisia and deprived of the power of staging an offensive, the 
quickest possible reorganisation would have to be made for an 
attack on Montgomery, to throw him back to the east and delay 
his deployment. Such an operation would obviously be one of 
considerable difficulty owing to the unfavourable nature of the 
ground. 

(c) In the long run neither Libya nor Tunisia could have been 
held, for the African war was decided by the battle of the Atlantic. 
From the moment that the overwhelming industrial capacity of 
the United States could make itself felt in any theatre of war, 
there was no chance of ultimate victory. Even if we had overrun 
the whole of Africa and the Americans had been left with a 
suitable bridgehead through which they could transport theii 
material, we must eventually have lost the continent.* Tactical 
skill at this stage could only postpone the collapse, it could not 
avert it in the long run. In Tunisia the aim must be to gain time, 
s^ as to bring as many as possible of the battle-tried veterans in 
safety to Europe. Because our experience had shown that there 
was no hope of maintaining a large army in Tunisia, our endeavour 
must be to reduce the fighting troops there to fewer but better- 
equipped formations. If the Allies tried to force a decision, we 
must constantly shorten the front and evacuate more and more 
troops by means of transport aircraft, barges and warships. The 
first stand must be in the hilly country extending round Tunis from 
Enfidaville, the second in the Cape Bon peninsula. When the 
Allies finally took Tunis they must find nothing there, or at most 

•This is only superficially a contradiction of Rommel's previous, views and a coo 
firmatiou of those of General Haider. Rommel remained convinced that, giwn support, 
he could have overrun tbe Middle East in the spring or summer of 1942 but he cam*, 
to realise that American production must eventually prove decisive everywhere. 



308 ROMMEL 

a few prisoners, and would thus be robbed of the fruits of their 
victory, as we were robbed at Dunkirk. 

(d) From the troops scheduled for evacuation to Italy, a striking 
force would be formed. These troops were the best both in 
training and battle experience that we could put against the 
British and Americans. Moreover, I was on such terms with them 
that their value under my command was not to be measured only 
by their actual numbers. 



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INDEX 



Abiial, Admiral d*, 71 

Afrika Korps : Rommel's influence 
on, 146-53; quality of, 150-1; 
clean fighting record of, 161-2; 
and prisoners of war, 162-4 

Air supremacy, Rommel on 
Allied, 280-1, 303 

Albrecht, Professor, 248, 249, 253 

Aldingcr, Captain, 43-4, 53, 70, 
94, X05, H2, 144, 146, 153, 
160, 234, 235, 243, 251, 253, 
254, 255-9, 268 

Alexander, General (later Field- 
Marshal): and the battle of 
Kasscrine Pass, 197-8; other 
references, 24, 167, 183, 188, 
199, 201, 282 

AUenby, Viscount, 24 

Archer-Shee, Major, 135 

Army, the German: and Hitler, 
58-60; and the S.S., 162. See 
also Afrika Korps 

/ ,-iim, General von, 195 

Atomic bomb, 185 

Auckinleck, Gen. Sir Claude: 
letter to commanders about 
Rommel, 23; and Tobruk, 109- 
10; and Operation Crusader, 
ti2f.; driven back by Rommel 
129X.; takes personal command 
of Eighth Army, 140; decision 
to stop offensive, 178; other 
references, 24, 95, 107, 148, 
172, 182, 282 

Australians, Rommel's opinion of, 
159-60 



Badoglio, Marshal, 86, 139, 155, 
204 

Balbo, Marshal, 194 
Bardia, 20 

Bastico, General, 139, 155, 158, 

305 
Battles : 

Alam-el-Halfa, 96, 181-4, 295-7 
Cambrai, 33 

EI Alamein, 96, 112-13, 186-92, 

298-305 
Enfidavjlle, 201 
France (1940), 6gf,, 274 
Gazala, 132k, 287-91 
Halfaya Pass, 27, 103-5 
Kasserine Pass, 197-8 
Medcnine, 198-9 
Operation Battleaxe, 103-5 
Operation Crusader, 112-27 
Sidi Bar rani, 18 
Sidi Rezcgh, 1 1 2f. 
Tobruk, fall of, 138 
Wadi Akarit, 201 
Bayer lcin, Gen. Fritz, 99-160, 
115, 118, 119, 122, 132-42 
passim, 149, 155, 162, 178, 

182-4, J86» i88 > >9<>> i 9'» 218, 
296 

Beck, Col.-Gen. Ludwig, 58, 67, 
91-2, 227, 238, 250-1 

Below, Major von, 290 

Berganzoli, General, 18 

Berndt, Himmler's personal assis- 
tant, 28, 261 

Bismarck, Prince von, 91 

Bismarck, Col. von, 81 



309 



3io 



INDEX 



Bittrich, General, 228 
Blaskowitz, General von, 209 
Bluinentritt, General, 222 
Bock, General von, 227 
Borgmann, Heinrich, 261 
Bo r maim, 26, 236 
Bottchcr, Adjutant, 251 
Boucher, Brigadier, 136 
Boxes, British strongholds, 132-3 
Bradford, Brig.-Gen. " Boy," 33 
Brauchitsch, Field-Marshal von, 

B6, 92 
Briggs, General, 135-6 
British, Rommel's opinion of, 

159-61, 291-3, 298, 303-4 
Brownshirts, the, 56 
Buchting, Col., 300 
Buller, Gen. Sir Redvers, 24 
Burgdorf, General, 253, 254, 255, 

256, 257, 258, 267 
Burma, 130 

Campbell, Maj.-Gen. "Jock," 

117, 149, 172-3 
Canaris, Admiral, 109 
Capuzzo, 20 
Carentan, 221 
Carnegie, Dale, 64 
Carver, Lieut.-Col., 125-6 
Cavallero, Gen. Count Ugo, 155- 

6, 157. 15*H), 172, 181-2, 295-7i 

3<>5 

Cavan, Lord, 39 
Chivalry, in war, 173-4 
Churchill, Winston, 84, 85, 112, 
203, 242 

Ciano, 85, 139, 154, 156, 159, 
182, 184 

Clifton, Brigadier, 168-72, 297-8 
Collins, General, 81 
Combe, Lieut.-Col. John, 20 
Cowan, Admiral Sir Walter, 207 



Cramer, Gen. Johann, 161, 186, 

260 

Cripps, Sir Stafford, 131 
Cruwell, General, 122, 134 
Cunningham, Admiral, 130 
Cunningham, General, 119-20, 

122, 123, 152 
Cyprus, 107 
Czechoslovakia, 65 

Dame), Rommel's driver, 229, 230 
Darnancl, 86 
Danzig 47 

de Guingand, Maj.-Gen., 198, 
199-200 

Defeat m the West (Shulman), 26 
Deniz, General, 106, 227 
Dietrich, Gen. Sepp, 205, 223, 

224, 228, 251 
Dimbleby, Richard, 20 
Dose, S.S. driver, 259 
Dunkirk, 70 

Egypt: elation at British success, 
16-19; British stock slumps, 

19 

Ehrenberger, Major, 254-5, 257 
Eisenhower, General, 173-4) 

.199-200, 216, 218, 244 
E) Alamein. Sat Battles 
Esch, Professor, 230, 247 
Escbeck, Baron von, 64, 144, 145, 

146-7, 151, 213, 221, 246-7 
Esebeck, General von, 97, 105, 

108-9 

Falkenhausen, General von, 242 
Feuchtinger* Maj .-General, 221 
Fortune, Maj.-General, 73, 79, 
80 



INDEX 



{II 



France : the " phoney " war and 
the campaign of 1940, 6g£, 
274; the Resistance Movement 
and the German Army, 85-6; 
invasion of, 203f. 

Franco, General, 86 

Freyberg, General, 37, 98, 124, 

I38» 149. aoi» *93 
Fritsch, Col.-Gcn. Werner von, 

93 

Fuller, Maj.-General, 118, 120, 
«47 

Gambara, General, 2G1 
Gambier-Parry, Maj.-General, 20 
Garibaldi, General, 154, 155 
Gausi, General, 134, 205-6, 240 
Generals, unknown to ordinary 

soldier, 24; Rommel's views on 

generalship, 278-80 
Gestapo, 86, 233-4, 237, 248, 249, 

252, 264, 269-70 
Godwin-Austen, Lieut.-General, 

Goebbels, Dr., 27, 28, 57, 67, 260, 
261 

Gocrdeler, Dr., 238, 239, 241, 
255*269 

Loering, Hermann, 26, 86, 182, 

*93-5> 211, 217, 266, 305 
Gott, General, 138, 149 
Graziani, General, 18, 86, 87, 

«75 

Greece, British forces sent tp, 20-1 
Origg, Sir James, 226 
Guderian, General, 191, 227, 250 
Gunther, Herbert, Rommel's bat- 
man, 143-4 

■ 

Halm, Inspector, 49, 240 
Haig, Eail, 24 

Haider, , Col .-General, 85-92 



passim, 93-4, 100, 140, 181, 20 1, 

2 1 3, 308/1. 
Hargest, Brigadier, 172 
Hart, Captain Liddcll, 147, 179, 

210, 222, 288 
Hartmann, Captain, 41-4, 53, 266 
Hascldon, John, ni-12 
Hassell, Ulrich von, 61, 67, 91 
Hess, 26 

Himmler, 57, 92, 162, 205, 211, 

237, 261-2, 270 
Hindenburg, 58 

Hitler: and the YVehrmacht, 58-9; 
Rommel on his character, 63-5, 
67-8; liking for Rommel, 71, 
92-3; and the failure to invade 
Britain, 85; spite against von 
Thoma, 86-7; sends reinforce- 
ments to N. Africa, 87-8; and 
Malta, 108; promises rein- 
forcements for Rommel, 184-6; 
stormy scene with Rommel 
after El Alamcin, 193; sees 
Rommel after fall of Tunis, 
200-1; and the Atlantic de- 
fences, 220-1, 223; conference 
with Rommel and Rundstedt, 
224-5; summons Rommel to 
Berchtesgaden, 225-6; Rom- 
mel's and von Kluge's letters 
to, 230-2; the plot against, 
238k; telegram to Frau Rom- 
mel, 260; other references, 21, 
26-7, 48, 50, 55-7, 77, 84-5, 
93"4> 109-10, 140, 199, 201, 
261, 262, 282, 299, 304, 305 

Hidcr Jugend. See Hitler Youth 

Hitler Youth, Rommel and the, 
60-2, 221 

Hofacker, General von 255, 269 

Holke, Sergeant, 229-30 

Hospital ships, Rommel and, 
171-2 



312 INDEX 

Hossbach, Colonel, 93 Kuzmany, Colonel, 258 



M 



Indians, Rommel's opinion of, 
159 

hijanterte Greijt An (Rommel's 
manual), 33, 39, 54, 62 

Italy: Rommel's opinion of, 84-5; 
defeat in N. Africa, 87; the 
Italian armies and Rommel, 
153-9* 275, 282, 295, 304-5; 
negotiations and the surrender, 
203-4. See also North Africa 

Jackson, A. N. S., 33 

Japan, 130 215 

Jews, persecution of, 237, 239 

Jodl, Col.-General (later Field- 
Marshal), 85, 91, 92, 108, 109, 
110, 140, 174. 203, 221, 226, 
236, 250, 261, 269 

Jungcr, Ernst, 40, 244 

Kcitel, Field-Marshal, 30, 85, 91, 

9 2 > 93. 94> lo8 > ,0 9> l 4°» 201, 
221, 222, 226, 236, 250, 253, 

261, 269 
Keitel (Rommel's friend), 30 
Kennedy, Brig.-Gen. " Kid," 43 
Kennedy-Shaw, Major, 1 1 1 
Kesselring, General, 108, 139, 

155, 181-2, 184, 205, 236, 2C0, 

284, 290, 295, 2975 3°5 
Keyes, Major Geoffrey, 1 1 1-12 
Keynes, J. M., 47 
Kleist, General von, 227 
Klopper, General, 138-9 
Kluge, Field- Marshal Gunther 

von, 230, 231-2, 248-9, 250 
Kocnig, General, 136 
Koniev, Marshal, 71 



Lang, Captain Heimuth, 228-30, 

243 

Lcttow-Vorbeck, General, 86 
Lloyd George, D., 66 
Leofller, Dr., 198 
Longarone, 39, 42, 52 
Ludendorfl, 46, 67 
Luz, Karl von, 28 



Maicr, Nazi Party local boss, 251 
Maisel, General, 254-5, 256, 257, 

258, 259, 260, 267 
Maletti, General, 19 
Malta, 106, 107, 108, 130, 131, 

13a, 287 

Mansiein, Field-Marshal von, 87 
Marmarica, Rommel on British 

positions in, 287-9 
Martcl, LieuL-Gen. Sir Giffard, 

118 

Meissner, Dr., 27 
Messe, General, 195 
Mcsservy, (General, 136, 145 
Meyer, Kurt, 60, 221 
Milch, Field-Marshal, 108-9 
Mines, in Western defences, 213- 

Model, Field- Marshal, 261 
Mollin, Lucie Maria, 31, 32, 35. 

See also Rommel, Frau Lucie 

Maria 

Monte Matajur, capture of, 37-9 

Montemuro, Major, 154 

Montgomery, General: and the 
battle of El Alamein, 113, 186- 
93; analyses Rommel's anti- 
invasion plans, 219-20, 221; 
Rommel on his caution, 306-7; 
other references, 19, 24, 39, 44, 



INDEX 



5i » 78, 95-6> »75, I78» 183, 
196, 197, 201, 213, 214, 244. 
282 

Moorehead, Alan, 44, 96, 118, 

135, 184, 213 
Morgan, Brig.-General, 51-2 
Morshead, General, 138 
Muiler, Colonel Wulfgang, 249 
Mussolini: and Rommel, 156-8, 

287, 301 ; other references, 18, 

87-9, 108, 139, 154 

Napoleon, 52, 149, 150, 288 
Neame, Lieut.-Gen. Philip, 20 
Nehring, General, 134, 183 
Neuhaus, Major, 229 
Neumann-Si lkow, General, 123-4 
Neurath, von, 242, 244, 1164, 266 
New Zealanders, Rommel's 
opinion of, 160, 161, 170, 293 
Nicolson, Harold, 47 
Norrie, Lieut.-Gen. WUloughby, 

"5» «>7 

North Africa : von Thoma opposes 
German- campaign in, 86-7; 
Italian defeat in, 87; Hitler 
sends reinforcements to, 88-9; 
German General Staff dif- 
ferences, 90-2; chequered for- 
tunes in, 95-6; speed of first 
German campaign, 100-1; 
Tobruk and Halfaya, 102-5; 
French help for Germans, 105- 
6; Rommel's strategy and 
tactics, 106-7; German High 
Command minimizes impor- 
tance of, 108; British deter- 
mination to hold Tobruk, 109- 
10; Operation Crusader, 112; 
Rommel's losses, 128; Eighth 
Army driven back to £1 
Alamein line, 129-30; fall of 



Tobruk, 132, 137-9; Eighth 
Army halts and refits, 175; pre- 
liminary actions to El Alamein, 
176. 182-4; German supply 
problems, 179-81; Hitler 
promises reinforcements, 184-6; 
battle of El Alamein, 186-93, 
298-305; battles in Tunisia, 
195-202; Rommel's written 
opinion of campaign in, 274 

Noske, Hcrr, 48 

Nye, General, 131 

Oberg, General, 2.19 

O'Connor, Lieut. -Cieneral Sir 

Richard, 19, 20 
Operations, German concept of 

military, 282 

Otto, Lieut. -Colonel, 112 



Patton, General, 71, 191 

P6tain, Marshal, 81, 82 

Ptenaar, Maj.-Gen. '* Dan," 124 

Plumer, Viscount, 24 

Plunkett, Randall, 175 

Poland, 47, 66-8, 274 

Prisoners of war: the Afrika 
Korps and, 162-4; Hitler and", 
165; Rommel and, 166-72 

Professional soldiers, 33 

Queen Elizabeth, H.M.S., 108 

Raeder, Admiral, 84, 108 
Ravens tein, Countess von, no 
Ravcnstein, General von, 97-9, 
105, 106, 109, no, 118, 119, 
121, 123, 150, 172-3, 221 
Reid, Major-Gen. Dennis, 117 



INDEX 



3H 

Resistance Movement, French, 
85-6 

Ribbentrop, Joachim von, 86, 260 
Rintelen, Colonel von. (later 

General), no, 186, 299-300 
Ritchie, General, 95, 122, 124, 

J3*» «34> !35> 136, *37, »38, 
*39> 285, 288, 289 

Roatta, General, 203 

Roehm, 26, 56, 59 

Rommel, Erwin (father), 28-9 

Rommel, Field-Marshal: Auchin- 
leck's letter on, 23; a phenome- 
non, 24-6 ; dislike of publicity, 
27-8, 213-14; birth, early years, 
and education, 28-30; joins 
army, in 124th Infantry 
Division, 30-3 1 ; in K riegsschule 
at Danzig, 31; receives com- 
mission and rejoins regiment, 
31-2; independence of mind, 
32, 34-5; first actions in World 
War 1, 33-5; his Inj'anterie Greijt 

A*> 33» 39» 54» 62; posted to 
new battalion, and marriage, 
35; early reputation, 37; cap- 
ture of Monte Matajur, 37-9; 
awarded Pour le M6rite, and 
promoted captain, 39; staff 
' appointment, 39-40; Capt. 
Hartmann on, 42-3; Capt. 
Aldinger on, 43-4; repostcd to 
original regiment, 48-9; com- 
mands internal security com- 
pany, 49; and von Seeckt, 50-2; 
at Stuttgart, and visit to Italy, 
52-3; forms Old Comrades 
Association, and birth of only 
child, 53 ; instructor at Infantry 
School, Dresden, 53*4; with the 
Jaeger battalion, 54-5, 56; and 
Hitler's advent to power, 55-6; 
and National Socialism, 56-7; 



instructor War Academy, Pots- 
dam, 57; respect for Hitler, 59; 
and the Hider Youth and von 
Schirach, 60-1 ; commands War 
Academy, Wiener Neustadt, 62, 
65; appointed c,o. Hitler's 
battalion, 62; on Hitler's char- 
acter, 63-5, 67-8; promoted 
major-general, 66; commands 
7th Panzer Division in France, 
70; Hitler's liking for, 71, 92-3; 
receives Knighthood Cross, 75; 
disliked by Haider and General 
Staff, 90-1; appointed to com- 
mand in Libya, and rela- 
tions with Schmundt, 92-4; 
chequered fortunes in N. Africa, 
95-6; recaptures Cyrenaica, 
ioo-i; Tobruk and Halfaya, 
I4 >3-5; strategy and tactics, 
106-7; determination to attack 
Tobruk, and difference with 
Jodl, 109-10; in Rome, 1 10-18; 
and Operation Crusader, 112; 
severe losses in N. Africa, 128; 
drives Eighth Army back to El 
Alamein line, 1 29-30 ; promoted 
field-marshal, 142; fitness for 
desert war, and habits, 143-7; 
leadership in battle, and in- 
fluence on Afrika Korps, 147- 
53; character of, 152-3, 206-7; 
and the Italians, 153-9, 274, 
282, 295, 304-5; and Mussolini, 
156-8, 287, 301; opinion of 
Indians, Australians, N. Zea- 
landers, British, 159-61, 170, 
291 » 293-4, 298, 303*4; and 
prisoners of war, 166-72; and 
Brigadier Clifton, 168-72, -279- 
98; and hospital ships, 171-2; 
before El Alamein, 176, 18 1-4, 
293-7> supply problems, 179, 



INDEX 



81, 280-1, 383, 30a; return to 
Germany, and promises by 
Hitler, 184-6; battle of El 
Alamein, 186-93; stormy scene 
with Hitler after El Alamein, 
193; and Goering, I93-5J 
supreme commander, Army 
Group Africa, 195-6; battles of 
Kasserine Pass and Mcdcnine, 
197-9; 8068 Hitler after lall of 
Tunis, 200-1 ; commands Army 
Group B in Italy, 203-5; and 
the S.S., 205; special mission 
to inspect Atlantic defences, 
205-1 1 ; receives independent 
command in the West, 21 of.; 
activity over mines, 2 1 4-7 ; anti- 
invasion plans, 217-24; con- 
ference with Hitler and Rund- 
stedt, 224-5; summoned to 
Berchtesgaden, 225-6; air attack 
on his car, 228-30; letter to 
Hitler, 230-1; disillusioned 
about Hitler, 236-7; and the 
plot against Hitler, 238!'.; 
wounded in Normandy, 246; 
choice of poison or the People's 
Court, 255-7; funeral of, 262- 
4; proposed monument of, 
270-1 ; on rules of desert war- 
fare, 274-80; on Allied air 
supremacy 280- 1 ; on battles of 
1942, 282f.; plans for Tunisia, 
305-8 

Rommel, Frau Lucie Maria, 49, 

52, 55 6 5» 7 2 » 8o> 94» IIO » J 94» 
195, 200, 234, 239-40, 248-61 

passim, 265, 266-7, 270-1. See 

also Mollin, Lucie Maria 

Rommel , Gerhard t ( brother) , 

28-9 

Rommel, Manfred (son), 53, 70, 
72, 80, 153, 159, 160, 200-1, 



315 

2 35> 2 43> 2 5 2 " 8 /«uww. 267-8, 
273 

Roosevelt, President, 242 
Rothenburg, Colonel, 72-3, 80 
Rugc, Vice-Admiral, 206-15 pas- 
sim, 222, 244., 246, 247, 2,-,3, 
264 

Rundstedt, Field- Marshal von : 
and Keitel, 221; conference 
with Hitler and Rommel, 224- 
5; relieved of command, 230; 
oration at Rommel's funeral, 
263-6; other references, 121, 
191, 210-11, 218. 220, 231, 246 

Russia, 21 

Rust, Dr., 61 



S.S., the, 86, 162, 204, 205, 233-4, 

237, 248-9 
Schamhorst, 52 
Schenntg, Dr., 247-8 
Schirach, Baldur von, 61 
Schmundt, General, 93-4, 236 
Sea Lion, Operation, 84 
Sccckt, General Hans von, 50-2, 

55, 161 
Shuhnan, 179 

Sidi Rezcgh. See Battles 

Singapore, 130 

Slim, General, 191 

Smuts, General, 64 

Soden, General von, 53 

Solium, 20 

Speidel, Frau, 250-1, 264 
Speidel, Gen. Di. Hans, 45, 154, 
226-8, 230, 234, 235, 241-3, 
244, 247-55 passim, 268-70 
Sponeck, Gen, Graf von, 201 
Sprdsser, Major, 38 
Stock, Professor, 248, 253 
StroJin, Dr., 234, 235, 238-40, 
241-3, 246, 251, 264, 266, 268 



316 

Sttilpnagel, Gen. Hcinrich von, 

227, 242, 248-9, 250, 255, 269 
Stumme, General, 71, 186, 187, 

*95» 299-3°° 
Syria, 107 

Tassigny, General de, 268 
Thoma, General von, 71, 86-7, 

100, 139, 185-6, 190 
Thomas, General, 65-6 
Tilsit, Treaty of, 52 
Tobruk: importance of, 102-3, 

109; fall of, 132, 137-9, 274 
Todt organization, 208-9 
Tschimpke, Oberleutcnant, 27 
Tuker, Lieut.-Gen. Sir Francis, 

214 

Tunisia: the battles in, 195-202, 
284; RommeI*s plans for, 305-8 



INDEX 



Valiant, H.M.S., 106 
Versailles, German 
Treaty of, 47-52 



evasions of 



Vi, V2, 214, 216 

War, German and British atti- 
tudes to contrasted, 40-2 
Warlimont, Gen. Walter, 59 
Wavell, General : victory in 1 940* 
1, 18, 19; difficulties and super- 
session of, 22; miscalculation in 
N. Africa, 100-1; Tobruk and 
Halfaya, 102-5; decision to 
hold Tobruk, 109; Rommel's 
high opinion of, 160-1; other 
references, 26, 87, 130, 201, 
282 

Wehrmacht. Sa Army, German 
Wellington, Duke of, 24, 149 
Wessels, Wilhelm, German war 

artist, 96-7 
Westphal,Lieut.-Col. (later Gen.), 

t2i, 165-7, 291 
Williams, Brigadier, 10 1-2 
Wilson, President, 47 
Wingate, Orde, 37 
Wolf, Corporal, 300 



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48. Rommel 



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ALSO AVAILABLE IN F&NTANA BOOKS 

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GEORDIE 

David Walker 

Geordie is one of those gems of writing which will leave an 
impression on your memory as bold and lasting as the original 
was slight and elusive. It is a gay, happy tale of how a " wee 
Highland laddie "* took a correspondence course in body- 
building and became the Champion of the World at putting the 
weight. His triumphs in America nearly estrange him from his 
childhood sweetheart, but not even his friendship with Helga, a 
Norwegian athlete, could keep him away from the simple world 
and the people of his native glen. 



THE WHITE TOWER 

» 

James Ramsey Ullman 

J'he White Tower raised its savage and sublime immensity high 
febove a Europe torn by war. In the years of peace this great 
"mountain had challenged the most experienced climbers of every 
^nation — but none had succeeded. The tides of war left in remote 
Kandermatt six oddly-assorted people who desired above all else 
I j climb the White Tower, each for a private reason. 
- In writing the heroic story of five men and a woman against 
4 mountain, James Ramsey Ullman has combined, in a rare and 
potent mixture, the suspense of physical danger and the haunting 
motives which lie below the surface of thought and action. 



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